He wasn’t the first Jew in space by a long shot — but Eytan Stibbe still managed an impressive Yiddishe feat while zipping around the Earth at 17,500mph.
Mr Stibbe, who set off for the International Space Station on 8 April, managed to celebrate Passover in space.
He prepared for the festival by taking a special box of shmurah matzah, grape juice to represent wine (alcohol is forbidden at the ISS), and a glass to drink it in.
Having set out just before the festival started as part of the first all-private astronaut team, he is the 19th Jew in space, Israel’s second-ever astronaut — but the first to celebrate Passover in the heavens.
“In the beginning Eytan took two dreidels with him because we thought we’d be launching around Chanukah” Melody Korman told the JC from Texas. She is the Israeli astronaut mission coordinator, in charge of planning every moment of Israel’s 11-day “Rakia’ mission. “Because the launch slipped so much, now it’s Passover in space,” she said.
Mr Stibbe, an ex-Israeli Air Force pilot, was determined to use his precious time in space wisely. His team invited proposals from scientists, teachers, artists and members of the public to enable him to get involved in their projects throughout his time in the space station.
Ms Korman said: “We have experiments from an Israeli startup which has developed radiation- protection vests. That’s basically for future missions, like a mission to the Moon or Mars. We also have a project for Earth observation and about atmospheric dynamics. All the clinical trials can support either a long duration in space or help us develop new medications and treatments for people on Earth.”
Oren Shriki from Ben Gurion University’s Department of Cognitive and Brain Sciences is one of the Israeli researchers making use of Mr Stibbe’s time in space for scientific research. He travelled to Texas to test a new device on him that monitors astronauts’ brains during space missions. Using a special helmet designed by an Israeli start-up called Brain.space, the astronauts recorded electrical activity through sensors on their scalps.
There is no previous high-quality data regarding the neural changes during prolonged space missions, so the information Prof Shriki has gathered will be vital in predicting how the brain will adapt to space travel.
“On earth, the heart knows how to pump blood to the brain in a way that counters the effect of gravity on Earth. But when you arrive on the space station and you’re under micro-gravity conditions, initially the heart pumps too much blood to the brain because there’s no gravity. After a few days, the heart adapts,” he said.
Aside from scientific research, Mr Stibbe was involved in producing 12 artworks while on the space station, including a sculpture that can exist only in micro-gravity conditions.
From space, Eytan Stibbe recorded physics, chemistry, geography, humanities and citizenship lessons, and even read bedtime stories in Hebrew for kindergarten-aged children.
“I really hope that after this more people would like to go to space to do research, to advance humanity, to make more educational impact. No one ever said space is only for engineers and scientists,” Ms Korman said.
Indeed space travel has started to become a reality for those with little or no scientific training, and not only scientists are contributing to today’s missions. The Rakia mission organisers hope to inspire a new generation of Israelis from all backgrounds to think big and reach for the stars. Mind you, that can only happen if the space station survives the zero-gravity matzah crumbs.