The second Israeli ever in space, Eytan Stibbe, safely landed on earth Monday, alongside three other participants in the first commercial flight to the International Space Station.
Flying back in a SpaceX capsule, they splashed down in the Atlantic off the Florida coast to close out a 17-day tour. The trip was supposed to last a little over a week, but dicey weather kept the visitors in orbit almost twice as long as intended.
While in space, Stibbe conducted some 30 scientific experiments chosen by a scientific committee led by the Ramon Foundation. He also conducted educational and artistic activities, the latter in conjunction with various artists.
Axiom handled the logistics for the trip for its three paying customers. Alongside Stibbe, American real estate tycoon Larry Connor and Canadian private equity CEO Mark Pathy took part in the tour. Their chaperone was Michael Lopez-Alegria, an Axiom vice president who flew to space four times while a NASA astronaut.
Stibbe paid $55 million for the trip, a sum that sparked criticism. Far smaller donations to scientific and educational causes would likely have produced more scientific and educational benefits than Stibbe's trip did. On top of the cost of the trip, large amounts were spent on public relations, including the tab (which Stibbe paid) for Israeli journalists to fly to America to cover the launch.
Moreover, the flight was often depicted as a national event, although Stibbe was never chosen to represent Israel.
- Former Israeli Fighter Pilot Pulls $55 Million, Intergalactic PR Stunt
- Second Israeli in Space Starts Trip Back to Earth, a Week Behind Schedule
- SpaceX Safely Docks at ISS With Second Israeli in Space After Technical Glitch
Stibbe, 64, a philanthropist and former Israeli fighter pilot, reached the international Space Station on April 8 as part of the first all-private astronaut team ever flown there.
It was the first time NASA opened its space hatches to tourists after shunning the practice perfected over the decades by Russia. Last fall, a Russian film crew flew up, followed by a Japanese fashion mogul and his assistant. In each case, an active-duty cosmonaut traveled with them.