Israel’s Beresheet spacecraft snapped a stunning picture of the moon moments before it crashed into the lunar surface Thursday.
The spacecraft experienced an engine problem seconds before it was expected to reach the moon. Beresheet was just a few hundred feet above the lunar surface when Mission Control in Yehud, Israel, lost contact with the probe.
The lander would have been the first private mission to reach the moon.
Beresheet, which is Hebrew for “in the beginning,” was developed by the Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL and the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries.
“Preliminary data supplied by the engineering teams of SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) suggests a technical glitch in one of Beresheet’s components triggered the chain of events yesterday that caused the main engine of the spacecraft to malfunction,” the mission explained in a statement released Friday.
“Without the main engine working properly, it was impossible to stop Beresheet’s velocity. Beresheet overcame the issue by restarting the engine. However, by that time, its velocity was too high to slow down and the landing could not be completed as planned.
“Data show that the first technical issue occurred 14 km (8.7 miles) above the Moon. Contact with spacecraft was lost when it was 150 meters (492 feet) above the lunar surface. Beresheet was moving vertically at 500 km/h (310.7 mph) to the inevitable collision with the lunar surface,” the mission explained.
“Comprehensive tests will be held next week to gain a better understanding of the events,” it added.
Beresheet snapped a selfie as it approached the lunar surface, which was greeted with excited applause in Mission Control. Just moments later, however, the team that built the washing machine-size probe looked on in horror as it became clear that the audacious mission had failed.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was among the audience in a packed Mission Control for the landing attempt, which was broadcast live on national television.
“We will try again,” Netanyahu said. “We reached the moon, but we want to land more comfortably, and that is for the next time.”
The unmanned spacecraft would have taken Israel into an exclusive club of space-exploring nations. Only three countries — the US, the Soviet Union and China — have made successful “soft landings” on the lunar surface.
Israel, however, is one of just seven countries to have orbited the moon, thanks to the Beresheet mission.
The moon landing attempt earned the praise of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin.
“Condolences to the Beresheet lander @TeamSpaceIL for what almost was! Communications were lost with the spacecraft just 150 meters (!!!) above the surface, and it couldn’t quite stick the landing. Never lose hope — your hard work, teamwork, and innovation is inspiring to all!,” he tweeted.