Israeli history reaches for the heavens with Israeli astronaut

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- Photo by Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority
Israel is a land of history. It seems like not a month goes by without a story of some new artifact, some piece of history, being discovered. Israel is unique among the nations in that it has been the focal point for so many historic and important events, and also has a climate that lends itself towards preservation. 

But soon, one of these artifacts will be traveling to a very different environment and will make new history in the process. Eytan Stibbe will be accompanying the January Space X launch, breaking the orbit with a piece of Israeli history on his person.

Stibbe will be the second Israeli to go into space. Scheduled to launch off the planet and join the International Space Station as part of the SpaceX program, Eytan won’t be going alone. He’ll be taking a small, but important piece of history with him, a 1,900 year-old Jewish coin.

Stibbe became familiar with the coin, a recent discovery from the Judean Desert, after a visit with the Israel Antiquities Authority Dead Sea Scrolls lab in Jerusalem. It was a visit looking at Israeli history, the sheer breadth and scope of Israel’s story and place in the world’s development. It included private viewing of ancient scroll fragments, biblical texts found in Judean caves, and other rare and wonderous archaeological finds. One of those finds was that coin.

The coin is a recent discovery. Found in what is (distressingly) called the Cave of Horror in the Judean Desert. The cave gets its name from the original excavators who explored it, they were horrified to find the ancient skeletal remains of over 40 people in the cave, victims of the Bar Kokhba revolt nearly 2000 years ago. However, the cave also contained several significant historical discoveries, including a Greek translation of the Book of the Twelve and new scroll fragments of the Books of Zechariah and Nahum as well as several other unique artifacts. Heartbreak and triumphs side by side, very much the pattern of Israel’s history.

The coin has symbolic value for Stibbe. "I saw the coin, minted with the palm tree and vine leaf, that for me represent the connection to the land, the love of the country, and the desire of the population of Israel in those years for independence.” Stibbe hopes to take this philosophy and spirit with him to the stars. 

Stibbe will be joining Space X on a "tourist” flight, but he is no stranger to the sky. A former Israeli air force pilot, Stibbe distinguished himself in the service. During the 1982 Lebanon War Stibbe flew combat sorties into enemy territory and personally shot down five Syrian aircraft. This record makes him an actual "Ace Pilot” in the strictest sense of the term.

A bittersweet loss hangs over Stibbe’s upcoming flight. During his military service Stibbe served under another Israeli hero, Ilan Ramon, also known as Israel’s first astronaut. Ramon was a distinguished airman himself who was tragically lost in the Columbia disaster in 2003. Stibbe has since been an active force in the Ramon Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to the memory of Ramon. His January flight will be made in honor of Ramon and his family.

It's a heavy responsibility. Stibbe is not only carrying national pride and history into space, but the emotional weight of his lost friend and national icon. But what better place to free yourself of such a burden than in the weightlessness of space. 

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