In a first for commercial space travel, non-profit organisation SpaceIL is hoping to see its Beresheet craft successfully complete a landing on the moon, and in the process make Israel only the fourth country to manage the feat.
The lander – whose name is Hebrew for Genesis – took off almost two months ago from Cape Canaveral in Florida as part of a “ride share” with Elon Musk’s SpaceX, as the Beresheet mission could not afford its own rocket.
The four-legged spacecraft, which is around the size of a washing machine, has been circling the Earth in increasingly large orbits waiting to be captured by the moon’s gravity.
It is expected to land in the Sea of Serenity, on the northern hemisphere of the moon’s near side, and if successful will measure the magnetic field at the landing site, and send back data and pictures.
A time capsule is also on board the lander — which includes a picture of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died on the space shuttle Columbia in 2003 — as well as a lunar library containing 30 million pages on a disk from the US-based Arch Mission Foundation.
Mr Ramon’s widow, Rona, who was a big supporter of Beresheet, died of cancer in December. The landing process for Beresheet is expected to begin just after 8pm on Thursday night.