Israel's first moon mission lifts off from Cape Canaveral

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The $100 million mission was designed and built by SpaceIL, a nonprofit based in Israel, and will take until early April to reach the moon.

The mission began in earnest in 2009, when founders Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub registered for Google's Lunar X Prize - a moon race to build and land a commercial lunar spacecraft. Funded by the Israeli company SpaceIL, the unmanned, 1,300 pound craft, called "Beresheet", which is the first word in the Bible and means "In the beginning", rocketed into space from Florida's Cape Canaveral. If all goes well, touchdown would be April 11.

SpaceIL officials have said they hope Beresheet will help inspire Israel's defense-focused space program to pursue more science-oriented missions. Beresheet and PSN-6 will now take opposite paths forward, with the lunar lander raising its orbit quite literally to the Moon while PSN-6 drops its high end down and circularizes at approximately 35,800 km (22,250 mi) above Earth.

Meanwhile, Beresheet, the Air Force Research Laboratory's S5 satellite, and the primary payload, Nusantara Saru, pushed on to orbit.

It was backed notably by businessman and philanthropist Morris Kahn, who financed the development of a craft.

Beresheet separation Beresheet separated from its Falcon 9 launch vehicle and the Nusantara Satu/S5 satellite stack 34 minutes after launch on 22 February 2018.

Israel aims to land on the moon after hitching a ride with SpaceX.

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The SpaceX rocket took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 8.45pm local time.

The Soviet Union was the first to put a spacecraft on the moon, Luna 2, in 1959.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine congratulated the Israeli team for carrying out the mission, saying, "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".

Beresheet also carries a time capsule that contains, among other items, a "lunar library" provided by the Arch Mission Foundation, which seeks to preserve human knowledge for eons by storing it in various off-Earth locales.

Beresheet was one of three payloads to be carried aloft by the SpaceX rocket. Once landed, Beresheet's mission will be to transmit photo and videos of the surface, as well as to conduct scientific measurements.

SpaceX set a company record previous year with 21 launches for customers including commercial satellite operators and the United States military, and Thursday's launch is its 70th total.

On Friday, NASA is expected to decide whether to give its final go-ahead to SpaceX for a first, unmanned test flight on March 2 of a new capsule created to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.