The Israel Space Agency in the Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Technology has partnered with the Ramon Foundation to send the second Israeli astronaut, Eytan Stibbe, impact investor, philanthropist, and former fighter pilot, to space. The purpose of the mission is to advance and expand the Israeli space industry, while also advancing dozens of Israeli technologies. This will be the first time an Israeli will be in the International Space Station.

The mission will facilitate the promotion of a variety of topics that will contribute enormously to Israeli society, humankind, and life on earth. It will also greatly contribute to the development of the space industry. Altogether 35 Israeli scientific experiments and technological demonstrations will be performed by Stibbe at the International Space Station during the one-week mission. The mission will enable Israeli entrepreneurs, engineers, and researchers to advance innovative ideas which will lead to technological, scientific, and medical breakthroughs, by providing a rare opportunity for the enterprises to be tested in a unique study environment –space. The hope is that this mission will thereby contribute to a broad range of international and Israeli research.

This mission is part of the Israel Space Agency’s extensive strategy to turn Israel into a world-class space superpower and to generate a local ecosystem of approximately 350 companies in the field of Civil Space, which will provide a livelihood to around 25 thousand employees and be responsible for about half of a billion dollars in annual private investments in Israeli industry. This is yet another way in which Israel is striving to make innovative advancements in the fields of space and technology alike.

An example of one of the experiments to be tested on the mission was developed by the School of Optometry and Vision Science at Bar Ilan University. In collaboration with the Israel Aerospace Medicine Institute (IAMI), Bar Ilan is aiming to study the in-flight effects of microgravity on visual function. Spaceflight associated with neuro-ocular syndrome (SANS) was reported recently in association with prolonged exposure to microgravity. Such prolonged exposure can impair various physiological functions in general, but the visual system in particular. The neuro-ocular syndrome reported in prolonged space missions characterized by low gravity includes decreased vision, changes in the optic nerve and the retina, and a change in the refractive error, and may all remain present following return to Earth.

During the experiment, they will be using Cortex Therapeutics’ (Glassesoff) digital tablet software. The software has been tweaked by Prof. Uri Polat, Head of the School of Optometry and Vision Science at Bar Ilan, his team and Dr. Eran Schenker, Chief Medical Innovation Officer at the Israel Aerospace Medicine Institute, to enable the monitoring of in-flight effects of microgravity on visual function, no matter how slight the change is.  During Stibble’s time in space, his vision will be remotely examined using the digital tablet software to understand at what point in time changes occur. The results will shed light on neuro-visual damage in space and may constitute a breakthrough in the treatment and future space missions. As Polat stated, “Vision is a very important function in our lives and space missions. We are proud to be part of this collective effort and contribute our knowledge and solutions to improve future space missions.”

The mission serves as an example of an extraordinary collaboration between diverse factors, and it manifests values of peace, innovation, and social responsibility. It brings tidings of a revolution in manned space flights– a revolution that will facilitate generating substantial progress in the field.