Israel on Friday successfully launched its first privately-funded Moon lander from Florida in the US, becoming only the fourth nation to make a landing on the lunar surface.
The lander, Beresheet, atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, was launched at 5.45 p.m. on Thursday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, NASA said. It was then just post-midnight in Tel Aviv on Friday.
"Congratulations to SpaceIL and the Israel Space Agency. 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," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.
Beresheet, a $100 million project, was developed by Israel's non-profit SpaceIL and its partners.
In July 2018, NASA chief had signed an agreement with the Israel Space Agency (ISA) to collaborate with SpaceIL on the mission.
As part of the collaboration, SpaceIL will provide NASA scientific data from the spacecraft's magnetometer to study whether Moon rocks contain a history of the magnetic field there.
"In July, I was in Israel and was very impressed with their commitment to expanding their role in the world's space community," Bridenstine said.
"As we better understand Israel's capabilities and the innovative work of their private industry, we know they'll be an even stronger international partner in the future, one vital to the success of extending commercial space to the Moon and eventually on to Mars and beyond.
"There are terrific opportunities awaiting Israel and all of us in advancing the space frontier," he noted.
The unmanned craft, weighing 1,300 pound and standing about 1 metre tall and 2.3 metres wide will begin a nearly seven-week journey to the Moon, and aims to touch down on Mare Serenitatis two months later.
NASA has installed a small laser retro-reflector aboard the lander to test its potential as a navigation tool. The agency also provided images of the Moon's surface to help the engineers identify a landing site for the mission.
NASA will also use its deep space telecommunications network to transmit images and science data home to SpaceIL and its partners.
NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), one of the agency's three spacecraft circling and studying the Moon, will analyse the gases released by Beresheet's decent engine as the lander approaches the surface.
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