After eighteen years, an Israeli is finally returning to the final frontier. Eytan Stibbe, a Haifa-born former fighter pilot and current multi-millionaire businessman, will lead a team of four astronauts on a SpaceX rocket mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Launching early next year, the Rakia mission will carry 44 different Israeli research projects to be tested during their 200 hour stay on the ISS. “The schedule is crazy, the challenges are immense, but we will make it; this is in our Israeli DNA, this is what we’re good at,” said Prof. Moran Bercovici of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at Technion, Israel’s Institute of Technology.i Technion is responsible for three of the experiments to be carried out.ii
In 2003, Ilan Ramon became Israel’s first astronaut. Born in 1954 in Tel Aviv, Ramon was a fighter pilot who saw action in the Yom Kippur War and Operation Peace for Galilee. In 1997, he was selected by NASA for training as a space shuttle payload specialist, and in 1998 he began a five-year training program in Houston, Texas. Finally, on January 16, 2003, he launched into space on STS-107 for a sixteen-day shuttle flight. Tragically, upon re-entry on February 1, the space shuttle Columbia burst into pieces over the southern United States killing everyone onboard, including Ilan Ramon.iii
Portions of Ramon’s diary were somehow recovered, and were published in a book entitled Rakia. This is a Hebrew word meaning “expanse” or “firmament” and is found throughout Genesis 1 referring to the sky. The Ramon Foundation, which is sponsoring the mission, and the mission name itself, Rakia, were both chosen to honor Ilan Ramon and his sacrifice.iv
Batteries, space hummus, solar panels, lens fabrication, gamma ray bursts, mini satellites, kidney health, neurofeedback, and water-based lentil plants are just a handful of the amazing new technologies that will be tested during the eight days on the ISS.v The variety of projects fits part and parcel to the eclectic nature of the Israeli culture and mindset. Glen (Itamar) Doniger, Scientific Director at Myndlift, a company responsible for one of the mission’s experiments, contends, “If there’s going to be a country that is going to be a leader in the upcoming burgeoning space market, it’s natural that it should be Israel, a country known for its startups, military prowess, and space industry.”vi
On the second day of creation, we read, “Then God said, ‘Let there be a firmament [rakia] in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters’” (Genesis 1:6). Finally, after almost two decades, Israel is going back to the rakia. Hopefully, Eytan Stibbe will open the door for many more Israelis to burst through the firmament into space.
i Press, Viva Sarah. “44 Israeli Research Projects Headed For Space On Rakia Mission.” NoCamels, 6 May 2021, nocamels.com/2021/05/44-israeli-research-projects-space-rakia-mission/.
ii Technion Australia Inc. “Second Israeli in Space Will Take Three Technion Experiments to the ISS.” Technion Australia Inc, 6 May 2021, austechnion.com/2021/05/06/second-israeli-in-space-will-take-three-technion-experiments-to-the-iss/.
iii “Payload Specialist Astronaut Bio: Ilan Ramon 2/03.” NASA, NASA, Feb. 2003, history.nasa.gov/columbia/Troxell/Columbia%20Web%20Site/Biographies/Crew%20Profile%20Information/Crew%20Biographies/PAYLOA~1.HTM.
iv Ramon Foundation, 7 Feb. 2021, en.ramonfoundation.org.il/.
v Viva Sarah Press.