This spring, Israeli astronaut Eytan Stibbe will perform 35 experiments in space as part of Israel's Rakia Mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The Rakia (Hebrew for "sky") program is part of Axiom Space Ax-1's first private mission to the ISS, and the crew will be traveling on one of Elon Musk's SpaceX Dragon capsules.
Stibbe, who is 64, is a former Israeli fighter pilot turned businessman turned private astronaut. He will become only the second Israeli to go into space.
The Israel Space Agency, the Ramon Foundation, and the Israel Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology—the parties involved in sending Stibbe to the ISS—said that the experiments in space will "save many years of research for hundreds of researchers and engineers from dozens of Israeli companies, universities, and hospitals."
How will it save time? Micro-gravity (the weak gravity found on the orbiting space station).
"The micro-gravity phenomenon…makes it possible to perform innovative experiments both scientifically and technologically and to develop products more efficiently than under the gravitational conditions on Earth," according to a statement released by the Israel Space Agency and other parties on Monday.
Axiom Space said the mission "will pioneer a new phase of microgravity utilization amongst non-government entities—laying the groundwork for a full realization of low-Earth orbit's possibilities and bringing critical findings back down to Earth."
Stibbe will be in space for a week. During that time, he is set to conduct 35 experiments that reflect a wide spectrum of interests—including genomics, ophthalmology, medical devices, agri-tech, quantum communication, and more.
Stibbe will be performing experiments on behalf of researchers at Tel Aviv University, Sheba Medical Center, Technion, Israeli precision oncology company Oncohost, Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, and private companies like Healthy.io and Aleph Farms, among many others. His experiments will range from genetic diagnostics to immune dysfunction to "nano ghosts"—super tiny cells that help organs in the body heal and control our immune responses.
Astronaut Stibbe will also do medical screenings on urine while in space using technology developed by Healthy.io, an Israeli company with an FDA-approved smartphone app that enables at-home urinalysis.
And there will be experiments on food while at the space station. There is "space hummus"—a study of how chickpeas grow in space. Stibbe will also look into gravity's effect on meat cells. Aleph Farms in Israel is working on a way to grow meat directly from cattle cells—rather than growing a whole cow! The company hopes to "develop a complete process of cultivated meat production for long-term space missions and build an efficient production process that reduces the environmental footprint on Earth."
One experiment, the Fluidic Telescope Experiment (FLUTE), will investigate how to use micro-gravity to produce high-quality lenses by shaping and solidifying liquids in space—in the hopes of one day enabling the construction of really large telescopes in outer space (the idea is that it is easier to haul a payload of liquid into space and create the lenses than it is to tote the parts if they are already made).
Stibbe has trained extensively on how to perform these experiments and will no doubt have a very busy week in space! Israel never ceases to amaze me with her creativity and innovation. I believe it is a fulfillment of part of our calling from God to be a blessing to the nations. Taking these experiments into space looks like it will give our researchers a turbo boost! The launch date for the mission is set for March 31, 2022.