Last Thursday night, the lunar module designed by the private Israeli company SpaceIL and given the name Beresheet (Genesis) was expected to land on the moon. The unit had been successfully launched into lunar orbit, but the delicate piece of technology with which it measured the distance between itself and the moon’s surface malfunctioned, leading to a crash landing. Armin Rosen, who was present at the SpaceIL headquarters, reports:
The span between the first loss of telemetry and word that the landing failed was maybe three minutes tops, and probably much less. A cosmic drama quickly and unexpectedly became a human one. How do you make sense of getting so close and losing the mission? One could soon attain some purely descriptive understanding of what occurred: as Ofer Doron, [one of the mission’s overseers], told the media afterwards, a malfunction in the inertial measurement system led to a cascade of events that resulted in an accidental full-engine cutoff.
Beresheet was built with almost no redundancies, so there wasn’t a second computer to take over at the first sign of real trouble. The mission depended on a thin margin for error during the final 450 feet of its interplanetary journey (although it later turned out that the problems started fourteen kilometers from the surface). . . .
[O]ne of the funders of the mission likened the endeavor to the Passover song Dayeinu, [“it would have been enough for us”]: if the probe had merely succeeded in reaching its correct altitude after launch, dayeinu. If all of the maneuvers had merely gone successfully, dayeinu. If Beresheet had merely entered lunar orbit, dayeinu. There were countless dayeinus. One of the most audacious private space ventures ever attempted had been, at worst, a 95-percent success. “We got Israel to places we didn’t imagine before,” Kfir Damari, [one of the founders of SpaceIL], said. “The Israeli flag is still on the surface, on an Israeli-made spacecraft,” said [his cofounder] Yonatan Weintraub.
On Saturday, it was announced that work had commenced on Beresheet 2.