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Israeli lunar lander now on way to moon, a private sector first

Light trail from SpaceX rocket launch out of Cape Canaveral.
Light trail from the Falcon 9 rocket carrying the lunar lander into space from Cape Canaveral on Feb. 21, 2019. Photo: SpaceX

The first privately built lunar lander, a vehicle made in Israel, is on its way to the moon. It successfully deployed after launching at 8:45 p.m. Thursday off Cape Canaveral on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and is expected to land on the moon's surface in April.

Why it matters: Along with the U.S., the former Soviet Union and China were, until tonight, the only countries to successfully land spacecraft on the lunar surface. Axios' Andrew Freedman notes that this lander — named Beresheet, meaning "in the beginning" in Hebrew — is the first to be entirely financed and built by the private-sector. It demonstrates that the public-private space race is on, with the moon in many companies' and countries' sights.

NASA Administrator James Bridenstine issued the following statement:

"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.
"In July, I was in Israel and was very impressed with their commitment to expanding their role in the world’s space community. 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."

Go deeper: Read Axios' special report on the space race