Israeli lunar lander looks back at Earth


An image captured by the Beresheet lunar lander shows a plaque with the Israeli flag in the foreground, and Earth in the background. (Beresheet / SpaceIL Photo)

An Israeli lunar lander gets photobombed by Earth in a selfie released today by SpaceIL’s Beresheet mission team.

The selfie was captured from a distance of more than 23,000 miles (37,600 kilometers) as the Beresheet lander went through maneuvers aimed at getting it to a lunar landing next month.

“In the photo of Earth, taken during a slow spin of the spacecraft, Australia is clearly visible,” the mission team said in today’s photo advisory. “Also seen is the plaque installed on the spacecraft, with the Israeli flag and the inscriptions ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ and ‘Small Country, Big Dreams.’ ”

The Beresheet lander, which is the size of a dishwasher and takes its name from the Hebrew phrase for “In the Beginning,” was built by SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries with nearly $100 million in backing from Israeli billionaire Morris Kahn, Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson and other private donors.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket sent Beresheet into orbit on Feb. 21, with a logistical assist from Seattle-based Spaceflight. Since then, the spacecraft has executed a sequence of rocket firings designed to raise its elliptical orbit high enough to enter the moon’s sphere of gravitational influence.

Beresheet missed one of its early maneuvers due to a computer glitch, but it’s back on an orbital itinerary that should lead to a landing in a relatively flat area of the moon known as Mare Serenitatis. In addition to its flag-emblazoned plaque, the spacecraft is carrying a CD-sized “time capsule” that contains digitized files of children’s drawings, photos and information about Israeli culture.

During its weeklong science mission, Beresheet will measure the moon’s magnetic field and send back high-resolution views of its surroundings — no doubt including an Apollo-style picture of Earth looming above the lunar surface.

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