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"Beresheet is the first spacecraft to land on the Moon as a result of a private initiative, rather than a government".

The spacecraft, called "Beresheet", a reference to the first words of the Bible in Hebrew: "In the beginning.", was launched into space at 8:45 p.m. local time.

What just happened? Israel has launched its first lunar lander.

Meanwhile, Beresheet, the Air Force Research Laboratory's S5 satellite, and the primary payload, Nusantara Saru, pushed on to orbit. The organization was founded by three engineers: Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari, and Yonatan Winetraub, who answered the worldwide challenge presented by Google Lunar XPRIZE: to build, launch and land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon.

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US satellite manufacturer Space Systems Loral, a Maxar company, purchased the Falcon 9 launch on behalf of its customer Pasifik Satelit Nusantara, or PSN.

To date, only three nations have landed on the moon: the United States, Russia and China.

SpaceIL was originally building the Beresheet lander for the Google Lunar X Prize, but continued on with the lander after the contest ended in March 2018 without a victor for the $20 million award.

Prior to liftoff, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and SpaceIL prime donor Morris Kahn spoke to a crowd at SpaceIL's mission control center at Israel Aerospace Industries, where a small crowd turned out to see the country's first Moon mission take flight. It seeks to become only the fourth country to successfully land on the moon, after Russian Federation, the US and China.

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But as the competition wore on, it became apparent that none of the companies were going to be able to meet the deadline to land on the moon, and so Google ultimately scrapped the competition in March 2018. The contest requirements were that the vehicle would have to travel at least 500 meters on the lunar surface and be capable of transmitting HD videos and pictures back home.

It will circle Earth in ever bigger loops until it's captured by lunar gravity and goes into orbit around the moon. This is a historic step for all nations and commercial space as we look to extend our collaborations beyond low-Earth orbit and on to the Moon. More recently, China's Chang'e-4 spacecraft reached lunar orbit a few days after launch.

About a half-hour after launching, the lunar lander will separate from the SpaceX rocket at a little more than 37,282 miles above Earth's surface and start a two-month journey to the Moon. After all, the Apollo missions flew directly to the moon, landing less than a week after launch.

Beresheet is created to spend just two to three days using on-board instruments to photograph its landing site and measure the moon's magnetic field. It will be the first private landing on the moon. It will use the agency's deep space telecommunications network to beam data back to its ground team.

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If successful, Israel will be the fourth country to achieve a controlled touchdown on the moon's surface.