Arriving at ISS, Israeli astronaut Stibbe gives station its first taste of Hebrew

A space capsule carrying four astronauts, including Israeli Eytan Stibbe, docked at the International Space Station Saturday in the first fully private mission to the station, and Stibbe and his fellow passengers entered the station.

Speaking at a welcome ceremony aboard the station, Stibbe said a few words in Hebrew.

Welcome to the International Space Station. It’s the first time that it’s possible to speak in Hebrew here,” he said. “It’s a workgroup that will operate together, we’ll help each other reach our goals. Each of us has come with a full plan of work.

“Good luck to everyone, good luck to Rakia,” he said, referencing the name of the Israeli mission.

The Dragon capsule had blasted off aboard a SpaceX rocket on Friday. It briefly paused its approach to the ISS after the failure of a video feed needed for docking, but teams on the ground found a way to work around the issue.

NASA has hailed the three-way partnership with US company Axiom Space and SpaceX as a key step towards commercializing the region of space known as “Low Earth Orbit,” leaving the agency to focus on more ambitious voyages deeper into the cosmos.

Businessmen Stibbe, American Larry Connor of Ohio, and Canadian Mark Pathy have paid $55 million apiece for the rocket ride.

The visitors’ tickets include access to all but the Russian portion of the space station — they’ll need permission from the three cosmonauts on board. Three Americans and a German also live up there.

Stibbe, a former fighter pilot and the second-ever Israeli to go to space, is carrying some 35 experiments for companies and research institutions on the privately funded Rakia Mission to the orbiting lab.

While wealthy private citizens have visited the ISS before, Ax-1 is the first mission featuring an all-private crew flying a private spacecraft to the outpost. Axiom pays SpaceX for transportation, and NASA also charges Axiom for use of the ISS.

Earlier Saturday, Stibbe and his three fellow passengers on board the SpaceX Dragon capsule communicated with the control room on Earth, with the Israeli businessman speaking Hebrew.

“Hello everybody,” Stibbe said in Hebrew. “We’ve gotten used to the lack of gravity by now and have started to feel more comfortable.”

“I have another indicator of the lack of gravity,” he said, while letting go of a toy in the shape of an octopus given to him by his granddaughter before his departure.

“The launch was amazing,” he said. “We’re currently over Africa and in about 15 minutes we will fly over Israel’s shorelines.”

The first-ever Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon, was killed in 2003 when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry into the atmosphere, killing all seven crew members on board. Members of the Ramon family were on hand when Stibbe’s flight was first announced in 2020, and were also present at the take-off in Orlando on Friday.

Stibbe plans to pay tribute to Ramon during the mission. He is carrying surviving pages from Ramon’s space diary, as well as mementos from his children.

Unlike the recent, attention-grabbing suborbital flights carried out by Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, Axiom says its mission shouldn’t be considered tourism due to its scientific goals.

The Axiom crew will live and work alongside the station’s regular crew: currently three Americans and a German on the US side, and three Russians on the Russian side.

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