For the past two months, Beresheet, which means “Genesis” or “In the Beginning,” travelled around the Earth several times before entering lunar orbit.
Around 20 minutes before the scheduled landing, engine firings slowed Beresheet’s descent. Engineers watched in silence as the craft, its movements streamed live on dozens of screens, glided toward a free-fall.
But then the screens showed the engine misfiring, and the velocity surging as it headed toward the lunar surface. Radio signals from the spacecraft, abruptly cut off.
Standing before darkened computer screens, controllers declared the mission a failure. The craft crashed near the historic Apollo landing sites.
President Reuven Rivlin hosted dozens of youngsters at his official residence, one of several celebrations scheduled across the country. The children, some wearing white and blue spacesuits, appeared confused as the crash unfolded.
“We are full of admiration for the wonderful people who brought the spacecraft to the moon,” Rivlin said. “True, not as we had hoped, but we will succeed in the end.”
Beresheet carried a small laser retroreflector from NASA intended to measure magnetic fields and provide insight on the Moon’s iron core. It also had a time capsule that included a Bible, Israeli cultural symbols and a picture of famed Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died in the crash of the U.S. space shuttle Columbia in 2003.
The head of NASA, Jim Bridenstine, said he regretted the mission didn’t succeed, but “I have no doubt that Israel and SpaceIL will continue to explore and I look forward to celebrating their future achievements.”