Israel is on the verge of becoming the fourth country to ever land on the moon.
A lunar spacecraft named Beresheet, translated in Hebrew as “in the beginning”, is expected to launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on Thursday evening (8:45pm ET) local time.
The craft will be loaded with a so-called time capsule of electronic files including the Bible, children’s drawings, memories of a Holocaust survivor, Israel’s national anthem, the country’s national flag and a copy of Israel's Declaration of Independence. The time capsule will remain on the moon indefinitely.
If successful, the 590kg rocket will become the first privately-funded spacecraft to land on the Moon and become the lightest man-made object on the Earth's satellite.
Israeli start-up SpaceIL is behind the craft, employing a small team of 30 engineers and volunteers to minimise costs.
State-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) corporation, a partner of the project, said the spacecraft was a “national and historic achievement”.
Funding was led by entrepreneur Morris Kahn, president of SpaceIL, who donated $40 million of the project's costs. The spacecraft cost around $100 million to construct, the cheapest-built probe to be launched into space.
“This is the lowest-budget spacecraft to ever undertake such a mission,” an IAI statement said.
The probe is expected to land in mid-April.
Israel follows in the footsteps of the three superpowers to have successfully landed spacecraft on the surface of the Moon.
The former Soviet Union landed Luna 2 in 1959, and just three years later the US landed Ranger 4 on the moon. China landed Change 3 in 2013 — currently the most recent landing made by any country.
Five countries have had successful probes orbit the moon, including Japan and India.
NASA intends to land as many as four astronauts on the moon by 2028.
India and China plan more moon missions later on this year, while the US government has re-opened plans to shuttle humans back to the moon.