Israel’s lunar lander on its way to the moon after SpaceX launch from the Cape

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER — Nearly a decade after three Israeli engineers walked into a bar in Tel-Aviv and concocted a plan to build a lunar lander, they watched their creation barrel toward the sky on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket Thursday evening.

Destination: The moon.

The lander, Beresheet — Hebrew for “in the beginning,” — joined two more satellites on the SpaceX launch Thursday, which took off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s launch complex 40 at 8:45 p.m.

As the rocket ignited, lighting up a clear night on the Cape, a shooting star crossed the sky. Minutes later, with the the moon rising in the horizon, SpaceX’s booster landed on its drone ship off the coast, Of Course I Still Love You.

But SpaceIL kept working on its lander, with help from philanthropists small and large. Philanthropist and businessman Morris Kahn, SpaceIL’s president, contributed $40 million in financing to the project and Dr. Miriam Adelson, an Israeli-American doctor and philanthropist, and her husband, casino magnate and investor Sheldon Adelson, gave $24 million.

“All the way to kids, who ran after us after giving a talk and said, ‘You know what? I want to give my Hanukkah allowance to you all because I want to be part of the mission to go to the moon,’” said Winetraub, one of SpaceIL’s cofounders.

Inspiring children and the next generation of leaders in the science, technology, engineering and mathematical fields has long been a part of the SpaceIL mission.

“We thought we [could] convince kids to pursue careers in science and engineering, and in Israel that’s a big problem because kids diverge from that… kids want to be celebrities, they want to be rock stars,” Winetraub said. “One thing we are really proud of is that in Israel we met more than a million kids.”