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Israel could be the fourth country to reach the moon by early 2019

Israeli billionaire and investor Morris Kahn (left) answers journalists' questions in front of a Israeli Aerospace Industries spacecraft during a news conference Tuesday to announce its launch to the moon, in Yehud, Eastern Tel Aviv. An Israeli organization announced plans Tuesday to launch the country's first spacecraft to the moon by early 2019. (Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)

Two Israeli companies want to make their home nation only the fourth to ever reach the moon. The other three nations are the United States, Russia, and China.

What are the details?

Aerospace Industries Ltd. (which is run by the Israeli government) and the nonprofit SpaceIL are behind the plan to land an unmanned probe on the moon by February.

The probe will reportedly plant an Israeli flag on the moon, before carrying out research.

South African-born Israeli billionaire Morris Kahn, who supplied funding for the project, said that he hoped that this mission would create the sort of enthusiasm that greeted the Apollo missions in the United States.

"This is a tremendous project," Kahn said. "When the rocket is launched into space, we will all remember where we were when Israel landed on the moon."

Along with Kahn, the Israeli Space Agency and U.S. megadonor casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson are funding SpaceIL.

The probe will reportedly use one of Elon Musk's Falcon 9 rockets to launch, and will be the smallest craft to ever land on the moon.  Once it lands, it can use its remaining fuel to "hop" 500 meters away from its original landing spot to run additional tests.

What else?

Initially, this plan was part of a competition that Google set up called the Lunar XPrize. The prize would have given $30 million to the team that developed a low-cost method of robotic space exploration.

The March deadline for that prize has long since passed, but the Israeli companies are using that momentum to try to bring about this project.

Israel isn't the only nation setting its sights on the moon. In May, China launched a relay satellite that will orbit the moon and allow it to receive signals from a planned probe that will land on the far side of the moon. Because it always faces away from the Earth, it is impossible without this system in place to get signals back from the far side of the moon.

NASA has also expressed interest in getting humans back on the surface of the moon, where they have been absent since Apollo 17 in 1972.

One last thing…
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