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IAF veteran downed 4 enemy planes in one Lebanon War sortie

Israeli astronaut to fund own space flight, just might fly alongside Tom Cruise

Eytan Stibbe, ex-fighter pilot set to be Israel’s 2nd astronaut, will also finance equipment for experiments on space station; 1st astronaut Ilan Ramon was his air force commander

Eytan Stibbe, set to become Israel's second astronaut in space, speaks at the president's residence on November 16, 2020; inset: Tom Cruise (GPO/AP)
Eytan Stibbe, set to become Israel's second astronaut in space, speaks at the president's residence on November 16, 2020; inset: Tom Cruise (GPO/AP)

The former fighter pilot announced Monday as the second Israeli to become an astronaut will pay the cost of his flight to space next year out of his own pocket, according to the Israel Space Agency.

The agency, part of Israel’s Ministry of Science and Technology, said that Eytan Stibbe will be taking part in a mission late next year made up entirely of privately funded individuals. Stibbe, a former fighter pilot in the Israel Air Force who holds numerous IAF records, is the head of a private equity fund and reportedly a multi-millionaire.

One of the soon-to-be astronauts joining Stibbe on the flight may be Hollywood star Tom Cruise, several Hebrew media outlets suggested.

It was previously reported that Cruise is to fly to space in October 2021 to film a new action-adventure movie in cooperation with SpaceX and NASA. It is not yet clear that the two will definitely be on the same flight, however, as the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc with filming schedules, Channel 12 news reported.

Officials announced that Stibbe was to become Israel’s second-ever astronaut at a Monday ceremony at the president’s residence.

“This is a day of national joy, and great pride,” said President Reuven Rivlin. “An Israeli pilot with a blue-and-white flag embroidered on his shoulder will prove once again, as we have been showing here for 72 years, that even the sky isn’t our limit.”

Pictured at the president’s residence, at an event announcing Israel’s second astronaut is to be sent into space next year, are L to R): chair of the academic advisory committee Inbal Krais, CEO of the Ramon Foundation Ran Livne, astronaut Eytan Stibbe, President Rivlin, Minister of Science and Technology Yizhar Shai, Tal Ramon, DG of Beit HaNasi Harel Tubi (Mark Neyman / GPO)

Stibbe will travel on a shuttle launched from Florida at the end of 2021, and will soon start his training, which will take him to the United States, Germany and Russia. At 62, he will be one of the oldest astronauts on record. Cruise is 58.

The launch will put Stibbe on the International Space Station for 200 hours, which he will use to conduct a series of unprecedented experiments that are intended to advance Israeli technologies and scientific developments by researchers and startups.

Stibbe will front the costs for the trip as well as for the equipment he will use to conduct experiments at the International Space Station, the ISA said.

The astronaut is a colonel in the Israeli Air Force reserves who flew as a fighter pilot for 43 years and participated in dozens of operational missions.

He holds numerous records for both flying and aerial combat, including being the only IAF pilot to have downed four enemy planes during one sortie, a feat achieved during the first Lebanon war in 1982. The F-16 fighter jet he flew during his service has reportedly taken down more enemy planes than any other in the world.

Stibbe is the founder and chair of Vital Capital private equity fund and over the last 35 years has worked on developing business and financing initiatives for infrastructure projects in the developing world.

Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon. (NASA)

A close friend of Ilan Ramon and one of the founders of the Ramon Foundation, Stibbe said at Monday’s ceremony that it was Israel’s first astronaut who first kindled in him the interest in space travel. Ramon was Stibbe’s commander in the IAF, Channel 13 news reported.

Ramon, a former Israeli fighter pilot, was a shuttle payload specialist on the STS-107 mission of Space Shuttle Columbia. He was killed, along with the other six crew members, when the shuttle blew up on February 1, 2003, just 16 minutes before they were due to land back on Earth.

Last year, astronaut Jessica Meir, whose father was Israeli, paid tribute to the Jewish state from space.

An Israeli unmanned spacecraft, Beresheet, crashed into the moon when trying to land in April 2019.

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