Israel will send its second astronaut into space at the end of 2021, with former IAF fighter pilot Eytan Stibbe set to join a scientific mission to the International Space Station.
The announcement of the mission was made jointly by President Reuven Rivlin, the Ramon Foundation and the Ministry of Science and Technology on Monday at the president's Jerusalem residence.
Stibbe is due to start his mission at the end of 2021, as part of a partnership between the Ramon Foundation and the State of Israel, making him a pioneer in the global private space industry.
The Ramon Foundation is a non-governmental organization for young people named for Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, who died during the Columbia space shuttle disaster in February 2003, his late son Assaf Ramon, who died in a 2009 training flight accident, and his wife Rona Ramon, who lost her battle with cancer in 2018.
The former pilot is set to spend 200 hours onboard the ISS, conducting an unprecedented range of experiments using Israeli technology and scientific developments, President Rivlin's office said in a statement.
In the coming months, Stibbe will begin training for his mission, culminating in concentrated three-month training period in the U.S., Germany and Russia before his blast off from Florida.
The Israeli mission's scientific and educational program will be led by the Ramon Foundation, working alongside the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Israeli Space Agency.
The three bodies, under the direction of Ramon Foundation CEO Ran Livne will together select the experiments and technologies that accompany Stibbe, as well as an educational program for Israeli children.
The Ramon Foundation and Ministry of Science and Technology will in the coming weeks issue an open call for scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs to send proposals for experiments to be conducted on the ISS.
According to the president's statement, the proposals will be "evaluated by an independent scientific advisory committee, comprising representatives of academic institutions, leading Israeli research institutes and government research and development agencies" under the leadership of Inbal Krais, director of innovation at the Space Systems Division of Israel Aerospace Industries.
“This is a day of national celebration and immense pride,” said Rivlin on Monday as he announced the mission. “An Israeli pilot, with the blue and white flag embroidered on his uniform is proving once again, as we have proved here over the last 72 years, that even the skies are no limit.”
The president also paid tribute to Ilan, Rona and Asaf Ramon.
“Their absence today reverberates in the heavens. The absence is so weighty, so tangible, that they are almost here," he said, calling them "a family that is a source of true Israeli inspiration and pride."
Addressing Stibbe, Rivlin added: “On your mission, you continue and fulfil their legacy. Today, you become the envoy of everyone. We give you our blessings for the way and wish you great success. Go in peace and return in peace, and do not forget to wave to us from up there. We are waiting for you here at home.”
The 62-year-old Stibbe is a colonel in the IAF reserves, having spent 43 years as a fighter pilot and participating in dozens of operational missions.
He is also a founder of the Ramon Foundation and is voluntary member of its board of directors.
“Next year, I will have the opportunity to participate in a mission to the International Space Station – a fascinating mission to science, education and the exploration of human nature," Stibbe said.
"The International Space Station is one of the greatest points of cooperation in the world, where astronauts from many countries live and work together. This is the kind of fellowship that is so vital, particularly at this time as we deal with the coronavirus crisis," he said.
"I hope that our mission to space will open new channels of cooperation, peace and believe in our ability to look after our beautiful planet for future generations.”