WHITTINGTON: Israel’s Beresheet has Fallen, But Beresheet 2 Is Coming


Mark Whittington Contributor
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Rocket science has become a synonym for something that is incredibly hard to do for good reasons. However, the phrase can also mean heartbreak, as the SpaceIL team discovered when their Beresheet moon probe crashed on the lunar surface last week. The heartbreak was shared around the globe by well-wishers who watched the attempted landing.

The Beresheet was the culmination of many years of engineering, testing, retesting, and fundraising. SpaceIL, an Israeli private group that proposed to land on the moon, was born in 2011 as the dream of three young engineers, Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub, to develop and land the first privately funded probe on the lunar surface. SpaceIL was one of the five finalists for the Google Lunar X-Prize, a competition to demonstrate that not just well-funded national space agencies could land on the moon.

Even though the Google Lunar X-Prize has expired in almost all but name, SpaceIL persevered. The team fashioned the Beresheet, Hebrew for “In the Beginning,” and successfully launched it as a secondary payload on a SpaceX Falcon 9. The probe spent several weeks in a low-energy trajectory to the moon before successfully entering lunar orbit, the first Israeli and first private vehicle to do so.

Beresheet attempted a landing on April 11, 2019. At first, all seemed to be going fine. At practically the last moment, the probe’s main engine failed, and Beresheet smacked into the lunar surface. The mission achieved all its objectives successfully, except for the final one, to soft-land on the moon.

So, what happens now? It’s pretty simple. Now that SpaceIl thinks that it has found the problem, a component of the main engine that failed during the final descent, causing the engine to cut off prematurely, it is going to build Beresheet 2 and try again.

Team SpaceIL has received accolades from around the world for their ingenuity and determination to see things through to almost a successful end. Such praise is all well and good, but the group of Israeli engineers proposed to land on the moon and that is what they will set out to do.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, recently victorious in a hard-fought election and present at SpaceIL’s mission control, made a different suggestion, that SpaceIL should try again. A second attempt at a moon landing does not mean starting from the beginning. The team has experience in all that it takes to make a flight to the moon and almost land there. All it must do is go through the process of funding and building a second, better lunar probe.

The effort that led to the first privately-funded attempt to land on the moon deserves to end in complete success and not to settle for the incomplete kind. The history of space travel has been marked by failures, of exploding rockets, crashes on the surfaces of the moon and Mars and even dead astronauts. Each failure has had within it a lesson to be learned that can lead to ultimate success. Americans know that truth very well. A year and a half after the Apollo Fire took the lives of three astronauts, two more stood triumphantly on the Sea of Tranquility. The ruin of Beresheet on the lunar surface should lead to a second lunar lander, standing intact on the moon, returning images and data.

An old saying exists that the more difficult the effort, the sweeter the ultimate success. Those skilled and plucky Israeli engineers should take heart from that saying, pick themselves up, learn from what happened, and try again. The Star of David on the lunar surface would be a source of pride and a symbol of even greater challenges that can be met and overcome.

Mark Whittington (@MarkWhittington) is the author of Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? and The Moon, Mars and Beyond. He also operates his own blog, Curmudgeons Corner. 

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.