‘A ray of light’: President talks to Israeli astronaut via video link
About 24 hours after docking at the International Space Station as part of the first fully private mission to the station, Israeli businessman-turned-astronaut Eytan Stibbe spoke with President Isaac Herzog via video link.
“My wife Michal and I are excited to be here tonight,” Herzog said at the broadcasted event held in Tel Aviv. “During these difficult times on the ground, we are happy to have a source of light in the sky,” he added, referring to the wave of terror attacks in Israel.
“Moments like these provide us with inspiration and excitement, especially during difficult days that have seen some dark moments and pain, here in Tel Aviv. This is also an opportunity to express condolences to the bereaved families, to express our pain and to say — life goes on with full force,” the president said.
“Looking up to the sky and knowing that an Israeli representative, a representative of humanity and also one of the Jewish people is working at the International Space Station, reads Hebrew poetry and conducts dozens of fascinating experiments, is definitely an important moment,” Herzog added.
Addressing Stibbe, a former fighter pilot and the second-ever Israeli to go to space, Herzog repeated his previous statement, telling Stibbe “you are a shining ray of light in the sky. We are all very excited. You’re doing wonderful things.”
The president added, “Come back safely and continue the wonderful project you have started.”
“Thank you, Mr. President. For the first time, the flag of Israel hangs at the International Space Station. It is very moving,” Stibbe said, before presenting the gift given to him by Herzog before his trip to space — a glass cube inscribed with the Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel in the handwriting of its author, the president’s grandfather, Isaac Halevi Herzog, Israel’s first chief rabbi.
The Israeli spaceman then let go of the cube, letting it float in zero gravity and reading out a part of the prayer.
“A special sentence I would like to highlight from this prayer, a beautiful sentence: ‘Establish peace in the land, and everlasting joy for its inhabitants,’” Stibbe said.
Asked about his first day on board the ISS, Stibbe said “It takes about two days to get used to the different flow of liquids in the body and the different sensations of hunger and thirst. It’s very different than what you feel on earth.
“The most special thing about the first day here in the station was the cooperation because we arrived as a group of four with no experience — one with a bit of experience, but three with no experience at all — the team that was here, the eight others, have been helping us with everything we need, even with hanging up the flag behind me,” Stibbe said, pointing to the Israeli flag.
“Eitan, you are a very brave person and the entire nation is proud of you,” the president said, before concluding their conversation.
Stibbe is carrying some 35 experiments for companies and research institutions on the privately funded Rakia Mission to the orbiting lab, which he started conducting on Sunday.
One experiment he has already started, according to the Walla news site, is one that measures the impact of microgravity on eyesight function.
According to the report, the first phase of the experiment, which included a digital examination of his eyes, was successful and will require two other stages before completion.
Experts hope data collected by Stibbe as part of the experiment might lead to significant breakthroughs in eye care.
While private citizens have visited the International Space Station before, Ax-1 is the first launch featuring an all-private crew flying a private spacecraft to the outpost — with the launch facilities rented out by NASA.
Unlike the recent, attention-grabbing suborbital flights carried out by Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, Axiom says its mission should not be considered tourism, due to its scientific goals.
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 crew members on board. Members of the Ramon family were on hand when Stibbe’s flight was first announced in 2020, and were also present at the take-off in Orlando on Friday.
Stibbe plans to pay tribute to Ramon during the mission. He is carrying surviving pages from Ramon’s space diary, as well as mementos from his children.