The spacecraft "Beresheet", named after the first word and the first book in the Torah (meaning "in the beginning"), lifted off from Cape Canaveral on February 21 and nearly completed its 6.5-million-kilometer journey to the lunar surface.
When landing appeared imminent, the control system lost contact with the spacecraft, a blackout that lasted a few minutes after which an engine failure was reported.
The spacecraft had travelled through space for close to seven weeks orbiting the earth before crashlanding on the moon. The lander presumably smashed into the moon's surface likely destroying its instrumentation that was to be used during the mission. A second sequence of engine burns has been slowly shrinking Beresheet's lunar orbit in preparation for landing.
The project began as part of the Google Lunar XPrize, which in 2010 offered $30 million in awards to encourage scientists and entrepreneurs to come up with relatively low-priced moon missions.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was present at the launch following his re-election, commented on the failure from the mission's control center in Yehud, Israel.
"We definitely crashed on the surface of the moon", said Opher Doron of Israel Aerospace Industries.
The mission received some funding from Israel's government, but was mostly paid for through private investment. The robotic vehicle, produced by SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries, aims to be the first privately funded spacecraft to land softly on the moon. Only the United States, the former Soviet Union and China have done it before. Though they failed to win the prize - no one did - they went on to create SpaceIL. "We'll try again, and next time we'll just try it more gently" said Netanyahu.
"It is by far the smallest, the cheapest spacecraft ever to get to the moon", said Doron.
"There is a suspicion that we did not land on the moon in the best fashion". Their first lunar craft crashed, just miles away from its goal of putting down on the moon's surface. The probe is the brainchild of three Israeli engineers running a nonprofit company SpaceIL partnered with Israel Aerospace Industries. The contest ended previous year with no victor, but the XPRIZE Foundation announced that SpaceIL's accomplishments will be recognized with its inaugural $1 million Moonshot Award after a successful landing today (11 April).
An Israeli flag was emblazoned on the spacecraft, befitting a probe that's as much about Israeli pride as it is about lunar science or commercial space exploration.