Eytan Stibbe, a private astronaut and the second Israeli to ever reach space, prepares to celebrate Passover in orbit.
Last Friday (April 8), Stibbe was one of four crew members who launched on the first fully private crewed mission to the International Space Station. The mission, called Ax-1, sent the crew on a 10-day space mission which includes about eight days aboard the orbiting lab.
Ax-1 was organized by the Houston company Axiom Space and is commanded by former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, who now works for Axiom. The crew left Earth in a SpaceX Dragon capsule that launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket.
Given the timing of this mission, the Ax-1 crew will be on the ISS during the Jewish holiday of Passover, which begins at sundown on Friday (April 15).
“Passover is all about freedom, which is a value which we celebrate annually and remind ourselves about the importance of freedom,” Stibbe said during a pre-launch news conference on April 1.
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Stibbe is not the first person to celebrate the holiday in space. In 2008, NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman, the first Jewish astronaut to live on the space station, celebrated the holiday on the orbiting lab. Including Stibbe, fellow private astronaut Jared Isaacman and actor William Shatner, who made a suborbital flight to space in 2021, 19 Jewish people have gone to space to date.
Passover is a Jewish holiday lasting eight days that commemorates the story of the liberation of the enslaved Jewish people and their exodus from ancient Egypt, which religious texts suggest occurred in 1446 B.C.E.
“This is based on a 3,000-year-old story, where Moses had the famous sentence ‘let my people go,'” Stibbe said about the holiday, singing the well-known line, which originates from the song “Go Down Moses,” a spiritual by enslaved African Americans with lyrics representing the story of the enslaved Jewish people.
“We have several traditions in that feast,” Stibbe added, referencing the traditional Passover Seder, a ritual meal marking the beginning of the holiday. A Seder includes many customs, “including drinking at least four glasses of wine,” Stibbe said. “So I took a wineglass with me [to space], but I don’t think I will find any wine in the station. And I don’t think I need a glass to drink wine.”
Alcohol is actually officially prohibited aboard the space station because of the possible damage it (and those who drink it) can do to onboard technology. However, in the past, Russian cosmonauts have allegedly smuggled bits of booze on board, cognac seeming to be the drink of choice.
Another staple of not just the Passover Seder, but the holiday overall, is matzah, or unleavened bread. Those who keep kosher for the holiday abstain from eating any bread (except unleavened bread), grains or legumes during the eight-day holiday. (This includes keeping it out of the home, among other traditions, though not everyone follows these traditions to the same degree).
Stibbe carried with him to space shmurah matzah, or “guarded” matzah, along with other Passover provisions, provided by Rabbi Zvi Konikov of Chabad of the Space & Treasure Coasts, a synagogue in Florida.
“This is quite different,” Konikov told Florida Today. “When I found out that Stibbe would be going to space, I knew how difficult it would be in regards to eating kosher, so with that in mind we got him a small box of shmurah matzah that would fit in a pouch for him to take on his mission.”
In addition to being the 19th Jewish person ever to go to space, Stibbe is only the second Israeli to reach space. The first was his friend Ilam Ramon, who flew aboard NASA’s space shuttle Columbia in 2003 and died along with six other astronauts when the vehicle broke apart during its return to Earth.
In Ramon’s honor, Stibbe and Ramon’s family co-founded the Ramon Foundation. On behalf of the foundation, Stibbe has carried a number of scientific experiments with him to conduct during his stay aboard the space station.