About 16 hours after blasting off to space in the first-ever private charter flight to the International Space Station, Eytan Stibbe and his three fellow passengers on board the SpaceX Dragon capsule, communicated with the control room for the first time, 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.”
“We will be joining the [International] Space Station in about two hours. In an hour we will gear up with our suits and start preparing for the connection. Goodbye for now,” he said.
Stibbe then passed the communications device to Spanish-American astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria.
“Our destination is the International Space Station… My crewmates and I have an eight-day very packed schedule of scientific activities and outreach and we’re very much looking forward to getting there,” Lopez-Alegria said. “We had a pretty good night’s sleep last night after launching yesterday, which was very exciting. Obviously, what a ride. I think there are smiles still being worn by the crew this morning.”
Watch live as the Ax-1 astronauts check-in from orbit https://t.co/wtecUunp5q
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 9, 2022
The first fully private space mission is operated by the US company Axiom Space and commanded by Lopez-Alegria, who serves as the company’s vice president.
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.
Before entering the SpaceX Dragon capsule, his enthusiasm was obvious — he did a little dance when he arrived at the rocket at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
“To be a part of this unique crew is proof for me that there’s no dream beyond reach,” Stibbe said before taking off.
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.
The crew is scheduled to reach the International Space Station at 2:30 p.m. (Israel standard time, GMT +3).
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 9, 2022
While private citizens have visited the International Space Station before, Ax-1 is the first launch featuring an all-private crew flying a private spacecraft to the outpost — with the launch facilities rented out by NASA.
But 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.