SpaceX's Falcon 9 Is About to Attempt a Historic Moon Mission: How to Watch

The Falcon 9 is already back in action. Within a month of the rocket’s last mission, it’s about to fly again, this time as part of a launch that’s significantly more historic: If it proceeds as planned, tonight’s mission could eventually go on to place the first privately-owned lunar lander on the surface of Earth’s nearest celestial neighbor. If weather conditions allow it, SpaceX’s launch vehicle will take off at 8:45 p.m. Eastern from Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Its payload will be comprised of three separate spacecraft: an experimental Air Force satellite, an Indonesian communications orbiter, and an Israeli non-profit’s Moon lander called Beresheet. Falcon 9 will bring the trio into orbit and then attempt to land its first stage back on Earth. Once the Beresheet lander makes it to 37,282 miles above the atmosphere, it will begin its two-day orbit to the Moon. If it manages to land intact, it would become the first non-government-owned lander to make it to the lunar surface. SpaceX will stream the launch — and its attempted reentry — on its YouTube channel.

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Beresheet was built by non-profit SpaceIL with an estimated $100 million budget and weighs roughly 1,322 pounds. If it makes it to the Moon in one piece, it’s prime objective will be to transmit video footage and pictures of its surroundings back to Earth. The Israeli NGO also included a copy of the Hebrew bible etched on a coin-sized metal disk, a time capsule with the Israeli Declaration of Independence, and a commemoration to a Holocaust survivor.

If successful, Beresheet will become the fifth remote explorer to land on the lunar surface in history. But more interestingly, SpaceIL would join the official American, Russian, Indian, and Chinese space agencies as part of the very small group of entities who have landed robotic explorers on the Moon. That’s a potentially historic feat, a step toward significantly more ambitious space exploratory efforts that will hopefully one day be carried out by private companies.

NASA recently called upon the private aerospace industry in the United States to assist in constructing a lunar lander for its 2024 Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway station. This would begin establishing the infrastructure to start carrying out regular missions on the surface of the moon, which would serve as a crucial test run for more ambitious ventures to Mars and beyond.

While there might be a record number of SpaceX launches this year, one of the earliest could potentially be the most impactful by catalyzing future moon shots on the part of private companies and NGOs, a potentially crucial next-step toward the eventual establishment of something like a Martian colony.

Watch all of SpaceX's 2018 rocket launches in this beastly supercut.