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April 1, 2022 8:39 am

‘I’m Ready to Fly,’ Says Second Israeli Astronaut Week Before Launch

avatar by Yafit Ovadia / CTech

Eytan Stibbe. Photo: Mark Neiman / GPO via Wikimedia Commons.

CTech – AxiomSpace is preparing to send its first private-manned astronaut mission to space in less than a week, which will see second Israeli astronaut Eytan Stibbe and his Ax-1 team depart for the International Space Station on Wednesday. Stibbe spoke to CTech from Florida on Thursday, where he is currently in quarantine prior to launch.

There is a lot of global excitement ahead of the flight. However, the launch was delayed due to NASA’s Artemis mission, which is an unmanned craft that will be traveling to the Moon. Once the Ax-1 crew returns, another team, crew-4, is next in line.

And the focus for now has mainly been on the 35 experiments engineered by Israeli startups and research universities who will get a chance to have their technology tested in space.

“I’m ready to fly,” Stibbe told CTech in an exclusive interview. “We’ve been focused on what we plan on doing aboard the space station. We’ll have to make many adjustments in zero gravity conditions. We sat down with experienced astronauts who taught us how to carry out experiments in space – where objects float around. Each task is quite a complex procedure.”

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The work, he noted, is purely scientific but he also plans on giving lectures in Hebrew to Israeli schoolchildren in physics, such as how fluids perform in gravity. “Everything works differently in space,” he added. Another focus for Stibbe will be Earth conservation methods. “Earth is our very own spaceship and needs to be protected. I believe that sustainability is crucial. The space station is an amazing model in that aspect: we recycle water, everything is powered by solar energy, we grow plants sustainably, and produce calorie-efficient food.”

Regarding the international tensions between Ukraine and Russia, are you worried that it will have an effect on the International Space Station’s inhabitants?

“Absolutely not. The station is a large international laboratory where people work for the sake of the Earth, for the sake of peace, and for the good of humanity. There are no political discussions onboard. We want to maintain this platform, and stay focused on our experiments.”

So you’re saying that astronauts are above human conflicts that exist on Earth?

“Consider an American researcher at a Russian institute. He wouldn’t be affected by international tensions, but would continue with his research. I don’t think it will affect our work on the ISS, it’ll be business as usual. Astronauts sit and eat breakfast and dinner together everyday. The environment is peaceful.”

The training, he noted, included a guide to where tools are located on the station, which will house 11 astronauts — including Stibbe and his crew. “Space onboard is very limited, and we need to learn where everything is located,” he said. Functioning in microgravity is also difficult to grow accustomed to, and the group trained numerous times at the Johnson Space Center’s facilities in Houston. They also practiced the complex maneuvers needed to enter the SpaceX Dragon capsule and return home. The team, he relayed, learned how to do routine things in space, such as using the kitchen, preparing food and water, and using the restroom. “We also learned how to shower in space,” he added with a smile. “You can’t really shower in space, but you can rinse off using a damp cloth, soap, and dry shampoo.”

The team’s workload schedule will remain packed. Each astronaut onboard has a highly-detailed schedule, to ensure that they have sufficient time to work on their experiments, plug in their devices to the limited number of electrical sockets and photograph each step of the process for learning purposes. “Everything is calculated right down to the minutes,” Stibbe said.

Additionally, every astronaut onboard is equipped with a personal computer, an iPad, and email connectivity, all much better communication tools than what Ramon had 20 years ago. Astronauts can even conduct private Zoom calls with their families or reach a doctor on a private server.

Have you been in touch recently with the Israeli companies?

“I have tested a lot of the experiments that I will do in space. Some are simple, like wearing a helmet for a period of time, or running software. For the more complicated ones, some Israeli scientists arrived in Houston two weeks ago and helped us run trials. We also went through all the medical tests that we’ll conduct in space to get them right.”

Do you have any thoughts about Ilan (Ramon)?

“Definitely, especially because I visited Ilan in Houston at NASA’s training facilities before he even went to space. And even though 20 years have passed, the facilities are still the same. Even some of the things we have onboard have been used many years ago. What works in space stays in space, because it’s terribly expensive to send over new equipment, so plenty of tools remain in the station that were used in the past.”

How do you feel about being the first Israeli astronaut to return to us alive? It’s a major mission.

“Defining it as a major mission is a little beyond me. I’m excited because this mission is about life, and it excites a lot of people and startups who have joined my journey. A year ago we thought people might be interested, but today that’s leapt tenfold. The amount of requests and questions I receive — even from small children — really amazes me.”

What is your message to the people of Israel?

“No dream is out of reach.”

The entire country wishes you a safe flight.

“There is a phrase people use in English, ‘godspeed.’”

I think it’s British.

“When I land, will you find out the origins of that for me?”

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