We must reinvent Beresheet to reach the Moon again

The last shot Beresheet sent of landing before crashing onto the moon's surface. (Youtube screenshot via Times of Israel)
The last shot Beresheet sent of landing before crashing onto the moon's surface. (Youtube screenshot via Times of Israel)

Beresheet, “Genesis” in Hebrew, symbolises many first—the first privately funded spacecraft to the Moon, the first Israeli ship to leave Earth orbit, the first daring attempt to land on the Moon for a relatively modest $100M budget. As the Mission Scientist, I joined SpaceIL in 2012. It was a dream started by Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari, and Yonatan Weintraub, and without Morris Kahn, it would have never happened. I watched it grow, change, stumble, regain strength, launch to space, capture in lunar orbit and crash onto its surface.

I learned some lessons. To borrow from a colleague, next to the book we can write about how to build a lunar lander, sits the encyclopedia we can fill on how not to do it. Could we do better? I believe so. We built a spacecraft on a timeline and budget that compelled a slim testing program and limited system redundancy. But I think we did some things remarkably well: we recruited incredible talent; brilliant engineers and scientists. Men and women with exceptional capabilities and uncommon passions. We didn’t take no for an answer. We struck partnerships with the leading companies in Israel and abroad. And perhaps most importantly, we educated our youth and excited a nation.

People say that in space projects, like in life, the journey matters more than the result. Technologically, reaching the lunar surface is much harder than reaching lunar orbit. Still, after Thursday night, the we don’t have $100M worth of metal and silicon on the Moon. It’s not even the set of spectacular pictures we see in the papers that we bought. What we gained is a knowledge base that the industry now has, how to make a complete power system, navigation, control, communication hardware and software, an integrated landing system. And how to pack it all into a spacecraft that weighs a thousand times less than Apollo without fuel. That’s less than some football players. This was always going to be the real prize and real motivation for doing Beresheet.

Our calling is to land on the Moon, and to learn something new about this neighbouring world. We sought to measure the magnetic field of the Moon that is embedded in its crustal rocks, and to decipher its enigmatic origin. Prime Minister Netanyahu, and relentless benefactor and leader Morris Kahn have already recommitted to this goal. What we must now do is redouble our efforts, reinvigorate our troops, and reinvent Beresheet. We will get to the Moon, and we will do it with a more capable, more robust, and as a researcher– I hope– an even more scientifically productive spacecraft.

About the Author
Prof. Oded Aharonson works at the Weizmann Institute of Science and is a SpaceIL Mission Scientist
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