“Right now I feel kind of overwhelmed,” she said. “I feel pride. But also sad. And disappointed.”
She was hopeful this was a first step for private efforts to explore space, not the end. “This can be done by the private sector,” Ms. Geron said. “We can go to the moon. Maybe even further”
The mission cost about $100 million, far less than government-sponsored lunar spacecraft, but it highlighted the trade-off in such faster and cheaper projects. The missions are also inherently riskier, and their backers must be willing to accept periodic failures.
NASA has embarked on that approach for sending small experiments to the moon. In November, the agency chose nine companies to vie for $2 billion in contracts over the next decade. NASA officials have emphasized the need for speed rather than assured success, and they expect some of those missions, like SpaceIL’s, to fail.
“I was a little bit depressed,” said Asaf Ezrai, 19, one of the spectators who said he wanted to pursue a career in science. “But it’s a great achievement even to come to this conclusion in the end.”
Three young Israeli engineers — Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub — started SpaceIL, aiming to win the $20 million first prize in the Google Lunar X Prize. They also hoped the effort would inspire children in Israel to pursue careers in science and engineering.
The task proved more arduous, both technically and financially, than any of the X Prize teams anticipated. After several extensions, the final deadline for the prize expired last year. The SpaceIL team pushed on, with Mr. Kahn providing the needed money to finish.
Last month, the X Prize Foundation announced that even though the competition had ended, it would give SpaceIL a $1 million Moonshot Award for a successful landing.