Eytan Stibbe among Axiom’s first private crew to visit space station

The founding director of Vital Capital Fund, Eytan Stibbe, is one of the four people that will be going on the first-ever entirely private mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Stibbe has been investing in Africa for the past 26 years.

Axiom Space, an American aerospace manufacturer and orbital spaceflight service provider, announced the private crew on Tuesday. Joining Stibbe on the proposed Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) are former astronaut of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Axiom’s vice president Michael López-Alegría; American entrepreneur and non-profit activist investor Larry Connor; and Canadian investor and philanthropist Mark Pathy.

Both Pathy and Stibbe will fly as the mission specialists, while López-Alegría will fly as commander and Connor will fly as the pilot. Former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson will serve as Ax-1’s backup commander and John Shoffner of Knoxville is the backup pilot.

The Ax-1 is expected to launch as soon as January 2022, using a SpaceX Crew Dragon. Axiom said Ax-1 is its first “precursor” private astronaut missions to the ISS—subject to approval from NASA and its international partners. It is also working NASA are working on the final approval for a formal Basic Ordering Agreement (BOA) to enable private astronaut missions, with further discussions underway to agree on and authorise the Ax-1 mission profile.

The Ax-1 mission, which is to a Low Earth Orbit destination (LEO), would allow the four-man crew to carry out research and philanthropic projects for eight days. According to NASA’s 2019 pricing policy on private astronaut flights to the ISS, each night costs $35,000 per person. This cost includes $11,250 to use life support system and toilet, $22,500 for other necessary supplies like food, air, and medical supplies.

Each member of the first private crew, however, is paying $55 million. This ticket price includes “any and all necessary costs”, an Axiom spokesperson told The Verge.

“We sought to put together a crew for this historic mission that had demonstrated a lifelong commitment to improving the lives of the people on Earth, and I’m glad to say we’ve done that with this group”, Axiom Space President and CEO Michael Suffredini said. “This is just the first of several Axiom Space crews whose private missions to the International Space Station will truly inaugurate expansive future for humans in space—and make a meaningful difference in the world”.

Eytan StibbeStibbe will be the second Israeli to launch into space, following his friend Ilan Ramon who died on the space shuttle Columbia in 2003. At age 63, Stibbe will be the third oldest person to enter orbit.

According to the statement by Axiom, Stibbe plans to conduct scientific experiments of Israeli researchers and entrepreneurs coordinated by the Ramon Foundation and the Israel Space Agency at the Ministry of Science and Technology. He will also undertake educational activities from orbit to inspire Israeli children, youth, and educators.

While Stibbe has over 26 years of investing in Africa, Vital Capital was launched in 2011 as a $350 million impact investment, private equity fund focused on sub-Saharan Africa. The portfolio companies of Vital Capital include Aldeia Nova, an agro-industrial company, Kora Housing, Luanda Medical Centre, Vital Tomosi’s Dairy, WaterHealth International, Capital Water, Focal Energy, Prabon Greenfields, Water for All, Sumbe-Gabela-Waku-Kungo (SWGK), 8 Miles, and Vital Capital Environment. Through investment in these companies, Vital Capital has delivered essential development impact to millions of individuals in low- and middle-income communities.

Stibbe is a board member of the Centre for African Studies at Ben-Gurion University and other non-governmental organisations dedicated to education, art and culture.

Pathy will be the 11th Canadian astronaut going into the orbit. He is collaborating with the Canadian Space Agency as well as the Montreal Children’s Hospital, who are helping to identify health-related research projects that could be undertaken during the mission.

Connor will collaborate with Mayo Clinic and Cleaveland Clinic on research projects. He also intends to provide instructional lessons to students at Dayton Early College Academic in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio.

“This collection of pioneers—the first space crew of its kind—represents a defining moment in humanity’s eternal pursuit of exploration and progress”, López-Alegría said. “I know from firsthand experience that what humans encounter in space is profound and propels them to make more meaningful contributions on returning to Earth. And as much as any astronauts who have come before them, the members of this crew have accomplished the sorts of things in life that equip them to accept that responsibility, act on that revelation, and make a truly global impact”.