Israel’s second-ever astronaut, Eytan Stibbe, has returned to Earth, successfully landing in the splashdown zone, ending his and three other astronauts’ nearly two-week stay in orbit in the historic Axiom mission 1, also known as Ax-1.
The crew’s SpaceX Dragon capsule Endeavor arrived off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, just after 8 p.m. Israel time following their stay in the International Space Station.
Splashdown of Dragon confirmed pic.twitter.com/m0C7GjwhYh— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 25, 2022
Entering Earth at 27,000 kph
The capsule entered Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of around 27,000 kilometers per hour (17,000 miles per hour). Friction in the atmosphere drastically slowed the speed of its descent but also brought the Endeavor to temperatures exceeding 1,930 degrees Celsius (approximately 3,500°F), according to NASA.
It continued its descent, slowing until it reached speeds of just 560 kph (348 mph), allowing them to open the parachutes. By the time it hit the water, it had speeds of just 30 kph (19 mph).
Speedboats immediately surrounded the capsule to make sure everything was in good condition and that there were no unexpected leaks or damages.
The recovery ship then approached the capsule and took it aboard.
The Ax-1 crew will depart from the spacecraft and undergo medical tests before being taken to Cape Canaveral for further testing, as is typical for space missions.
Stibbe was congratulated upon his return by President Isaac Herzog.
Welcome back to Earth, Israeli astronaut Eytan Stibbe! One small step for man, one giant leap for the State of Israel and mankind's space mission.— יצחק הרצוג Isaac Herzog (@Isaac_Herzog) April 25, 2022
“Welcome back to Earth, Israeli astronaut Eytan Stibbe!” Herzog tweeted, echoing the famous words of Neil Armstrong, the first man on the Moon.
“One small step for man, one giant leap for the State of Israel and mankind’s space mission.”
Why the delay?
The astronauts were originally set to return earlier, but bad weather forced a delay and meant the astronauts had to spend more time in orbit than originally planned.
However, they were finally able to undock from the space station early Monday morning (late Sunday night EST).
What did the Ax-1 astronauts do in space?
Ax-1, led by Houston-based start-up Axiom Space in partnership with SpaceX and NASA, is a historic moment for science and space travel. While other private space ventures like Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Richard Bramson’s Virgin Galactic focus heavily on space tourism, the Ax-1 mission is entirely science-focused.
During his time in orbit, Stibbe conducted 35 experiments as part of Israel’s Rakia mission, which aims to advance Israel’s aerospace industry and inspire young Israelis. These experiments ranged across a wide variety of fields, including testing or demonstrating the viability of certain technologies, observing scientific phenomena, studying mechanisms of theorized concepts and groundbreaking tests on food and agriculture.
"The underlying goal of Rakia is to recognize the prospective benefits of space exploration, through it we all aspired to draw on the curiosity associated with human space travel and unleash its creative potential. It aspires to raise awareness of the importance of preserving Earth’s limited resources and fostering commitment to international collaborations and the advancement of space research," Stibbe said in a post-landing press briefing.
"During the mission days dozens of scientific experiments which were developed by Israeli researchers and scientists were conducted onboard the space station, and students, educators, researchers, intellectuals, and the general public were stimulated by the exposure to it, and to the demonstration of the use of Israeli technology. On the educational level, Rakia enabled live transmission of educational content to hundreds of thousands of Israeli students in Hebrew, for the very first time from the ISS.
"In addition, Rakia presented a unique opportunity to see Israeli art projects being formed and exhibited in space. [The] Rakia Mission and the people behind it prove that 'no dream is beyond reach.' I am excited to see the impact of the mission continue for years to come and to meet the many partners that created this mission and contributed to its success upon my return to Israel."