Israeli astronaut set to conduct scientific experiments in space

Eytan Stibbe will conduct 35 Israeli-designed scientific experiments aboard the International Space Station.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

An Israeli astronaut is set to launch into space for only the second time in the country’s history Friday to conduct nearly three dozen scientific experiments on the International Space Station (ISS).

Eytan Stibbe is a former flying ace who served for years in the air force with Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, who died in the 2003 Columbia shuttle disaster when the aircraft exploded on reentry to Earth’s atmosphere.

Stibbe, 64, will be going to space with three other astronauts, two American and one Canadian, on the first completely private space mission by Axiom Space Inc., an American space infrastructure developer. Stibbe’s part was dubbed the “Rakia” (Heavens) mission by its joint Israeli backers, the Israel Space Agency, the Ramon Foundation, and the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology.

He will be running 35 experiments designed by Israeli universities, private companies, hospitals and even high school students. While six different fields are represented – astrophysics, optics, engineering, medicine, renewable energies, and agriculture – two thirds  are medical.

These include a test that is part of an attempt to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, trying out a no-needle blood-test device, and studying leukemia cells under microgravity conditions, among others.

Three others are related to how to grow food in space, from chickpeas for humus to nutrient-rich vegetables and lab-grown meat. Stibbe will also use a plant called Moringa that is considered a superfood but whose seed powder is a sanitizer that kills bacteria. The Moringa experiment was designed by religious teens in Safed’s Amit Yeshiva High School.

Stibbe will also set aside time to lecture to students back home and to read a storybook called Beauty of the World by Israeli prize-winning painter and children’s author, Paul Kor. Knowing how symbolic his mission is in Jewish history, he is also bringing to space a coin minted during the Bar Kochba Revolt nearly 2,000 years ago.

When choosing the coin in August, the astronaut said that it “represents the connection to the land, the love of the country, and the desire of the population of Israel in those years for independence.”

Having been a close friend of Ilan Ramon, he told Israel Hayom last month that he will also be taking along some pages of the diary that Israel’s space pioneer wrote on his ill-fated flight that miraculously survived the disaster, as well as a painting created by Ramon’s daughter, Noa.

In general, he said he hopes that his mission will “change the sentiment in Israel that connects manned space flight and tragedy,” he told the Hebrew daily.

Blasting off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, the Axiom Mission 1 flight is set to dock at the ISS on Saturday.