The spacecraft experienced a failure of its main engine just seconds before it was expected to reach the lunar surface. "We had a failure of the spacecraft, we have not landed successfully," explained a spokesman from a deflated Mission Control in Yehud, Israel. A problem with the spacecraft's engine was reported at 3:24 p.m. ET and communication with Beresheet was lost.
"We definitely crashed on the surface of the moon," said Opher Doron of Israel Aerospace Industries.
He said the spacecraft's engine turned off shortly before landing, and scientists were still trying to figure out the cause. The spacecraft, called Beresheet, was in pieces scattered at the landing site, he said.
Before the mission's failure, Beresheet snapped a selfie as it approached the lunar surface.
The unmanned spacecraft would have taken Israel into an exclusive club of space-exploring nations. Only three countries – the U.S., 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.
"Beresheet came the closest Israel ever has to land on the moon, but unfortunately the landing was not completed successfully. We applaud @TeamSpaceIL for a tremendous scientific achievement, they made history by making Israel one of 7 nations who had ever orbited the moon," tweeted the Israeli government.
Beresheet, which is Hebrew for “in the beginning,” was developed by the Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL and the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries.
"Don’t stop believing! We came close but unfortunately didn’t succeed with the landing process," tweeted SpaceIL.
Beresheet was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Feb. 21.
The spacecraft entered lunar orbit last week, capturing its first images of the dark side of the Moon.
The probe was expected to land within Mare Serenitatis in the Moon’s northern hemisphere. SpaceIL notes that the site has magnetic anomalies, which would have enabled Beresheet’s magnetometer device to take measurements as part of a scientific experiment. Data from the magnetometer, which was developed with Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, was to be shared with NASA.
In addition to its science mission, Beresheet carried a time capsule to the Moon. Consisting of three disks, the time capsule data includes symbols such as the Israeli flag and the country’s national anthem, “Hatikvah.” Dictionaries in 27 languages are also on the disks, along with the Bible and a children’s book inspired by the mission.
Beresheet was born out of the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition to land an unmanned probe on the moon. The $30 million competition was scrapped with no winner last year after the organizers said none of the five finalists would make the March 31, 2018 deadline for a Moon launch, Space.com reports.
Ambassador Dani Dayan, Israel's consul general in New York, watched the landing attempt unfold at an event hosted at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, New York. “The Israeli national anthem is called Hatikvah: The Hope. A nation built on the very principle of hope will never, ever give up," he said, in a statement emailed to Fox News. "Space exploration manages to unite all of humanity as we gaze up at the sky in wonder, and in awe, even when things don’t necessarily go according to plan. Beresheet means ‘in the beginning’—and indeed, this is only the beginning of our small country’s endeavors as we pursue our big dreams.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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