Soft Landings

 

The moon’s distance from Earth varies from approximately 225,000 miles to about 250,000 miles. Because the moon is much smaller than Earth, and so has a weaker gravitational field, most of the trip to the moon — the first 200,000 miles or so — is uphill: Earth is still trying to pull you back, albeit with an ever-diminishing attraction as you get farther away.

It’s hard to get there, and even harder to land once you do. Several countries have crashed objects on the moon, but to date only three — the old Soviet Union, the United States, and China, and in that order — have managed to achieve soft landings on the moon.

The Soviets were the first to actually land a spacecraft on the moon, back in 1966; the United States was just a few months behind them. The United States, of course, was the first to land a man on the moon, in July of 1969. Though a dozen American astronauts have walked on the moon, no other nation has sent a man (or woman) there.

China, the third country to soft-land a spacecraft on the moon, took a long time to do it: it wasn’t until 2013 that they joined the exclusive club of lunar-landing nations. China can claim, however, to be the first and only nation to land — as opposed to crash — a vehicle on the far side of the moon, the side we never see from Earth. They did that in January of this year.

The moon will be about 225,000 miles away in early April when the Israeli Beresheet spacecraft is scheduled to arrive there. The trip will require the craft to make three orbits of Earth, each a little more distant than the last, until it finally breaks free of Earth’s gravity and establishes an orbit around the moon. The Beresheet will then, if successful, make Israel only the fourth nation to achieve a soft lunar landing.

It will also be the first time that a private concern, as opposed to a government, has landed a vehicle on the moon. In that sense, the Beresheet — which means “genesis” or “in the beginning” in Hebrew — will live up to its name, as it ushers in the age of private, albeit unmanned, lunar travel.

The Beresheet was launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on February 21 and is scheduled to land on the moon on April 11. The spacecraft is flying on a shoestring, without the normal backup systems and redundancies of a typical big-budget space flight. Everything will have to go right for it to successfully complete its mission.

But if it does, Israel, this tiny and beleaguered nation, will once again demonstrate its exceptional ability to stand with the biggest and most powerful nations.

There are 16 comments.

  1. Full Size Tabby Member

    Henry Racette: But if it does, Israel, this tiny and beleaguered nation, will once again demonstrate its exceptional ability to stand with the biggest and most powerful nations.

    For a reason other than space travel, I was thinking earlier today about the unusual concentration of inventiveness in Israel, and wondered a bit on “why?”. My tentative thoughts were on whether being a tiny and beleaguered nation might contribute. They have to stay (figuratively) fit and scrappy to reduce the possibility of being eliminated. The United States and western Europe have grown wealthy and with that wealth comes a certain amount of flabbiness. 

    In Biblical terms, throughout history the Israelites were most likely to go “off the rails” when they grew wealthy and comfortable. 

    Wealth and comfort allow us to spend time and money developing new things, but poor and uncomfortable have a way of motivating some people to work that much harder to develop new things. 

    • #1
    • March 6, 2019, at 11:21 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  2. Slow on the uptake Thatcher

    Henry Racette: China can claim, however, to be the first and only nation to land — as opposed to crash — a vehicle on the far side of the moon, the side we never see from Earth. They did that in January of this year.

    How do we know?

     

    • #2
    • March 6, 2019, at 11:29 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  3. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette Post author

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    Henry Racette: But if it does, Israel, this tiny and beleaguered nation, will once again demonstrate its exceptional ability to stand with the biggest and most powerful nations.

    For a reason other than space travel, I was thinking earlier today about the unusual concentration of inventiveness in Israel, and wondered a bit on “why?”. My tentative thoughts were on whether being a tiny and beleaguered nation might contribute. They have to stay (figuratively) fit and scrappy to reduce the possibility of being eliminated. The United States and western Europe have grown wealthy and with that wealth comes a certain amount of flabbiness.

    In Biblical terms, throughout history the Israelites were most likely to go “off the rails” when they grew wealthy and comfortable.

    Wealth and comfort allow us to spend time and money developing new things, but poor and uncomfortable have a way of motivating some people to work that much harder to develop new things.

    As someone, perhaps Samuel Johnson though I’m not sure we really know, once said, “nothing concentrates the mind like the knowledge that one will be hanged in the morning.”

    The Israeli people achieve amazing things. Perhaps the knowledge that their choices matter so very much is part of the reason why.

    • #3
    • March 6, 2019, at 11:52 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  4. Slow on the uptake Thatcher

    I think it’s big time cool! 

    For two reasons:

    First – it’s Israel!

    Second, it’s private enterprise (go, baby, go!)

    I realize, of course that those are two totally excellent reasons for MSM to minimize coverage of success (on the other hand, should there be a failure…)

    • #4
    • March 6, 2019, at 11:58 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  5. The Reticulator Member

    Slow on the uptake (View Comment):

    I think it’s big time cool!

    For two reasons:

    First – it’s Israel!

    Second, it’s private enterprise (go, baby, go!)

    I realize, of course that those are two totally excellent reasons for MSM to minimize coverage of success (on the other hand, should there be a failure…)

    You beat me to it. 

    • #5
    • March 6, 2019, at 12:28 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  6. Caryn Member

    I watched the launch in real time. It was very exciting. First time I’ve watched a rocket launch in a very long time.

    Here’s a representation of how it’s being done and why it’s taking so long:

    And, being 2019, it just took a selfie.

    • #6
    • March 6, 2019, at 12:53 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  7. Slow on the uptake Thatcher

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Slow on the uptake (View Comment):

    I think it’s big time cool!

    For two reasons:

    First – it’s Israel!

    Second, it’s private enterprise (go, baby, go!)

    I realize, of course that those are two totally excellent reasons for MSM to minimize coverage of success (on the other hand, should there be a failure…)

    You beat me to it.

    Great minds.

    • #7
    • March 6, 2019, at 12:55 PM PDT
    • Like
  8. Caryn Member

    There’s this, too. In Hebrew with Hebrew and Arabic subtitles, but it’s pretty adorable. The basic point can be gotten without any language comprehension.

    I’m borrowing liberally from the SpaceIL website, with some help from YouTube.

    Here’s the commercial they ran during the launch. It’s a little tear-jerky. At least for me, since I lived through (barely) all of the other ones! And for the piece at the end.

    The floating man at the end was Ilan Ramon, the astronaut–and rather impressive pilot–who died in the Columbia space shuttle disaster. He was one of the pilots on the mission that took out Saddam’s Osirik reactor. The launch was done somewhat in his honor.

    • #8
    • March 6, 2019, at 1:11 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  9. ctlaw Coolidge

    • #9
    • March 6, 2019, at 3:16 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  10. Nohaaj Coolidge

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):
    but poor and uncomfortable have a way of motivating “some” people to work that much harder to develop new things.

    in your defense you added the conditional “some” to your hypothesis.

    If “poor and uncomfortable” was truly the prime motivator for ingenuity, invention and progress, then Africa and South America and Haiti and countless other nations and peoples would now be leading the World (instead of being sh-thole countries, in the words of POTUS).

    No, the reason the Jews succeed and excel is because of their culture of valuing education, thrift, self sacrifice and hard work.

    • #10
    • March 6, 2019, at 3:44 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  11. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    I assume the network security and the whole assembly process is the best possible. Iran, and allies of convenience like Russia and China, would like this mission to fail. A significant portion of our own deep state, and the Congressional Democrats, want this to fail. Imagine a successful hack, to answer Israel’s successful anti-nuclear proliferation missions in Iran.

    • #11
    • March 6, 2019, at 4:37 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  12. TGR9898 Coolidge

    Caryn (View Comment):

    I watched the launch in real time. It was very exciting. First time I’ve watched a rocket launch in a very long time.

    If you haven’t been watching the SpaceX launches, you’re missing out on some amazing (and long-overdue) advances in technology.

    I strongly reccomend the NROL-76 launch broadcast. Since the payload was classified, Space-X couldn’t turn on the upper stage video feed BUT the AirForce provided them with a camera on a chase plane. As a result, you get to see the entire process of the 1st Stage flying itself back to the Landing site (return portion starts at 14:22 in the video, T+2:23 on the flight), Most flights they just show the onboard cameras of the 1st & second stage.

    (Note – video should start at 11:38 automatically)

    For a slicker, more compact show the “Starman” video produced from the Falcon Heavy launch is impressive. The simultaneous landing of the two boosters still provides goosebumps.

    • #12
    • March 6, 2019, at 5:44 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  13. Jimmy Carter Member

    Henry Racette: China, the third country to soft-land a spacecraft on the moon, took a long time to do it: it wasn’t until 2013 that they joined the exclusive club of lunar-landing nations.

    Thank You, Bill Clinton. 

    • #13
    • March 6, 2019, at 6:14 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  14. Caryn Member

    ctlaw (View Comment):

    Ctlaw, this is hilarious. I’ve never seen it before. Thanks for sharing!

    • #14
    • March 7, 2019, at 8:24 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  15. Caryn Member

    If anyone is still following this post, here’s the most recent news (with very cool photos). The switch from Earth’s to the moon’s gravitational pull, and thus orbit, was successful. Landing is anticipated 11th April.

    • #15
    • April 7, 2019, at 11:49 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  16. Slow on the uptake Thatcher

    Caryn (View Comment):

    If anyone is still following this post, here’s the most recent news (with very cool photos). The switch from Earth’s to the moon’s gravitational pull, and thus orbit, was successful. Landing is anticipated 11th April.

    Yup: Thanks! (And some of the other articles there were interesting as well, I liked one that references a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition.)

    • #16
    • April 7, 2019, at 2:03 PM PDT
    • 1 like