Israel’s attempted moon landing ended in failure on Thursday when the craft, Beresheet, experienced engine failure as it prepared to land and apparently crashed onto the lunar surface.

“The spacecraft Beresheet did not successfully complete its landing on the moon,” an onscreen message said.

In a live videocast from mission control near Tel Aviv, project originator and major backer Morris Kahn said, “We didn’t make it, but we definitely tried.”

“I think that the achievement of getting to where we got is really tremendous, I think we can be proud.”

During the broadcast, control staff could be heard saying that engines meant to slow the craft’s descent and allow a soft landing had failed and contact with it had been lost.

“If at first you don’t succeed, you try again,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the control room, where he had been watching along with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

Only Russia, the United States and China have made the 384,000-kilometre journey and landed safely on the moon.

Israeli NGO SpaceIL and state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the project’s two main partners, described it as the “world’s first spacecraft built in a non-governmental mission.”

Khan, a philanthropist and chairman of SpaceIL, put up $40 million of the project’s $100 million budget.

Other partners who joined later are from “the private sector, government and academia,” according to the IAI website.

Just before the landing attempt Netanyahu said that he was thinking about initiating a national space project.

“I am seriously considering investing in a space programme,” he said in the webcast.

“It has national implications for Israel and implications for humanity.”

– with reporting by AFP