After much preparation and multiple delays, Eytan Stibbe successfully blasted off into space from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on Friday morning at 11:17 am Eastern time (6:17pm Israel time) becoming Israel’s second-ever astronaut.
The 64-year old former fighter pilot is leading Israel’s Rakia mission as part of Axiom Space Ax-1, the world’s first private mission to the International Space Station (ISS.)
He is joined by two other men and a retired NASA astronaut, representing “NASA’s first foray into space tourism,” The New York Times reports. The mission’s commander is Spanish-American and Axiom Space Vice President Michael Lopez-Alegria. The other astronauts are US entrepreneur and nonprofit activist investor Larry Connor, the Ax-1 mission pilot, and Canadian researcher Mark Pathy, the Ax-1 mission specialist.
The astronauts, who took off in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, will spend 10 days in orbit, including eight days aboard the station. The capsule is anticipated to dock to the space-facing port of the ISS Harmony module around 7:45 am Eastern time (2:45 pm Israel time) on Saturday, April 9, Axiom Space said.
“Shalom,” Stibbe said in Hebrew just nine minutes before take-off before switching to English, “A few minutes before launching this journey, I wish to share with you the words of the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy that will describe the perspective of our marvelous crew. Keep Ithaka always in your mind. / Arriving there is what you’re destined for. / But do not hurry the journey at all. / Better if it lasts for years. / so you are old by the time you reach the island, / wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way, / not expecting Ithaka to make you rich. / Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey. B’hatzlacha Ax-1. B’hatzlacha Rakia.” (B’haztlacha is good luck in Hebrew.)
The Ax-1 crew will participate in educational outreach and conduct innovative research experiments on the orbiting laboratory. According to Axiom Space, they will conduct more than 25 scientific research and technology demonstrations.
Stibbe is set to complete a series of 35 experiments while aboard the ISS. Clean meat cultivated under microgravity conditions, a vest that protects against radiation, art projects, and tech that combats spaceflight-associated neuro-ocular syndrome (visual impairment, intracranial pressure, from long space missions) are just a few of the experiments given final approval.
The list of experiments was finalized by the Ramon Foundation, the Israel Space Agency, and the Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Technology, who are helping to send Israel’s second-ever astronaut on the historic space mission.
“#Ax1 Mission Specialist Eytan Stibbe is representing the ‘Rakia’ banner and the maxim ‘There is no dream beyond reach’ — which magnificently captures the spirit of the #Ax1 mission. He becomes Israel’s 2nd astronaut,” Axiom Space tweeted about two hours before take-off.
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Fifteen minutes prior to the flight, “everything looked good” and the weather looked favorable for liftoff, according to announcers at the AX-1 Mission.
“I feel very safe, and I trust the equipment that we are using,” Stibbe told reporters in a press conference on Zoom on Tuesday while in pre-flight quarantine in Florida, “We are constantly carrying out further inspections to ensure everything is fine.”
“What a historic launch! Thank you to the dedicated teams at NASA who have worked tirelessly to make this mission a reality,” said Administrator Bill Nelson. “NASA’s partnership with industry through the commercial cargo and crew programs has led our nation to this new era in human spaceflight — one with limitless potential. Congratulations to Axiom, SpaceX, and the Axiom-1 crew for making this first private mission to the International Space Station a reality.”
Stibbe’s flight was first announced in November 2020. Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s president at the time, said the announcement of a second Israeli astronaut being sent to space was “a day of national celebration and immense pride.”
An Israeli pilot, with the blue and white flag embroidered on his uniform, is proving once again, as we have proved here over the last 72 years, that even the skies are no limit,” he said in his speech.
The first-ever Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon, was killed in 2003 when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry into the atmosphere, killing all seven of the crew members on board.