Eytan Stibbe will blast off for the International Space Station in February and he wants American Jews to get involved.
By Yakir Benzion, United With Israel
Israel’s newest astronaut, Eytan Stibbe, is getting ready to blast off into orbit early next year and he wants people on the ground – including North American Jews – to get involved.
He knows that it’s not just Israelis who will be following him. The eyes of the world will be tracking him on his trek into space.
“This will be a great experience, and my intention is to involve as many people as possible, whether those be Israelis, North American Jews, kids around the world, and even people in Africa,” Stibbe told Israel’s Calcalist business newspaper.
Stibbe served as a decorated combat fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force, and his commanding officer was Ilan Ramon – Israel’s first astronaut – who became a close friend and colleague.
Stibbe’s launch, scheduled for February 2022, is a huge step marking the return of Israelis to orbit. Ramon and six other astronauts died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster when their spacecraft broke up on re-entry in 2003. No Israeli has been in space since.
Stibbe was 11 years old when he watched Neil Armstrong take the first steps on the moon and he remembers how the the entire world came to a halt for the historic event.
His first encounter with Ramon left a great impression.
“I met Ilan in 1991, he was the commander of my squad when I was in the reserves. We became really good friends, and when he was appointed by the Israel Space Agency to become an astronaut, I visited him at the Johnson Center in Houston,” Stibbe said, recalling how Ramon gave him a tour of the facilities including the mock-up and simulator of the shuttle.
“Suddenly, I understood what most American kids know: Space is accessible. It’s real,” he said, adding that at the time, “I didn’t expect it to become possible for me.”
Stibbe was there for the Columbia launch, and afterwards to mourn with the family. He and Ramon’s widow, Rona, founded the Ramon Foundation for youth academic excellence “to grow the sector here [in Israel] and help spur education, inspire kids to think big, believe in their dreams and know that they can come true.”
A combat veteran who once downed four Syrian enemy planes in one mission, Stibbe ended his military career with the rank of colonel before founding his own venture capital firm, Vital Capital, which is involved in building infrastructure in impoverished communities in Africa.
“I have several contacts in Africa who are also fascinated with space and I hope this will inspire them. I don’t think we’ve had an African astronaut yet, so I hope that will happen as well,” Stibbe said.
A billionaire philanthropist, Stibbe is also a partner in the establishment of social initiatives, including Zikaron baSalon (Memories in the Living Room) in commemoration of the Holocaust. He and his wife are founders of social benefit company Anatta Ltd, which supports social and educational initiatives in the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Lod.
Stibbe is the new breed of private astronaut and will be paying his own way into space. He and his wife Ora have three children.
“I think the advantage of being a private astronaut is that it can open the door to others who aren’t in obvious scientific sectors. When you look at the International Space Station, you see a big laboratory where you can conduct many experiments, but psychologists, philosophers, artists, and others aren’t invited to this exclusive club. I want that to change. Space is for everyone,” Stibbe said.
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