Israel will soon be sending the Rakia mission into space, with astronaut Eitan Stibbe set to take an unprecedented 35 different experiments to the International Space Station.
The 35 experiments were chosen from 44 proposals. The mission is led by Israel’s Science and Technology Ministry and the Ramon Foundation.
From plastic-eating bacteria to luminous events
The experiments cover a wide variety of different fields of study, including testing or demonstrating the viability of certain technologies, observing scientific phenomena and studying mechanisms of theorized concepts.
Some of them focus on scientific studies and come from a variety of sources, including high-school students. One of them, an experiment developed by high schoolers from Tel Aviv, will attempt to test how a microgravity environment impacts the rate that the bacteria Ideonoella Sakaiensis degrade plastic.
Other, more complex ones are developed by researchers from different companies and institutions.
One such project, known as ILAN-ES, was developed by Prof. Yoav Yair of Reichman University. This experiment will study transient luminous events, which are electrical phenomena that occur above thunderstorms.
These come in a few different varieties. At around 40 kilometers up are blue jets that propagate from cloud top to the stratosphere. At around 90 km. are gigantic jets that head to the ionosphere. And between 50-90 km. in the mesosphere are elves (an acronym for Emissions of Light and Very low-frequency perturbations due to Electromagnetic pulse Sources), which appear as a flattened 400-km.-wide expanded glow that can last for just a millisecond, and red sprites (Stratospheric/mesospheric Perturbations Resulting from Intense Thunderstorm Electrification, which manifest as large-scale electrical discharges that cause strange visual shapes).
Also being tested is the AstroRad radiation vest. Made by Israeli company StemRad and proudly boasting the Israeli flag, it is designed to essentially shield astronauts from space radiation. This is especially important as interest grows in expanding humanity’s presence in space and renewed missions to the Moon.
As a result, the Israel Space Agency, in partnership with NASA and the German Aerospace Center, has already worked to test this technology, which will also be sent as part of NASA’s Artemis 1 Mission.
During the Rakia mission, Stibbe will test the AstroRad vest under microgravity conditions, assessing its comfort and range of motion and providing critical feedback on its viability for long space voyages.
Food supply and medical testing
THE RAKIA mission will also have experiments focusing on food and agriculture.
One experiment, by Alef Farms, seeks to solve a significant problem in space travel: food supply.
It is very difficult to provide astronauts with quality food and nutrition, with “space food” often seen as a poor substitute.
But Aleph Farms has another possible solution: a program that would allow for the production of beef steaks in space. Essentially, it would use a sort of 3D printing to grow the meat from cells, not an actual animal.
In 2019, the company successfully tested its “bio-printing” technology in space, and it has seen considerable progress on Earth. In 2021, it successfully produced a full slaughter-free steak.
In the Rakia mission, Aleph Farms hopes to see how gravity impacts the cells that make up the building blocks of the steak, which will allow them to see if their technology can lead to both an efficient food production method for long-term space missions and to further improve their own slaughter-free meat production on Earth.
A number of other experiments focus on medical testing. These include performing blood tests without a needle and improving the immune system. But arguably one of the most interesting tests is about leukemia in children.
In children, leukemia is the most common type of cancer. While current treatments are often effective, they come at a price that has punishing consequences in both the short and long term.
This experiment, led by the oncology department at Schneider Children’s Medical Center for Israel in Petah Tikva, will attempt to find a new type of treatment by studying how microgravity conditions affect cancer cells. The results of this experiment will be compared to similar ones done on Earth.
The Rakia mission does not just represent a major achievement of sending all of these experiments to space, however. It is also the second time an Israeli astronaut has been sent to outer space.
The former fighter pilot and businessman served in the IAF under Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut, who died tragically in 2003 when the Columbia space shuttle exploded upon reentry. The Ramon Foundation set up in his honor is helping to lead this mission.