As I gazed down upon the Earth from the vastness of space, an indescribable sense of awe washed over me. Floating amidst the stars, I felt a connection to something far greater than myself – a profound spirit that transcended all earthly boundaries. At the first sight of our blue planet suspended in the infinite cosmos, just 20 minutes after launch, I knew that my perspective on life and existence would never be the same. .
Witnessing Earth’s beauty from afar, the boundaries that once defined my understanding of the world seemed to dissolve. I could not help but reflect on humanity’s tiny size in this never-ending universe.
Presently, the end of the Jewish calendar year (5783) is approaching, marking a period of introspection and welcoming the new year. Judaism has always been an important part of my culture. On the ISS we celebrated Passover sharing a feast with our family and friends on Earth, and a few days later, we celebrated Easter with the Russian crew. We were a small group of humans away from Earth, we found every reason to celebrate, although everyone had their own beliefs.
As part of the Rakia mission, the Israel Antiquities Authority presented me with an ancient Jewish coin, dating back to 133/4 CE, during the Bar Kokhba revolt, named Prince Shimon Bar Kokhba. When I glanced at this coin floating in microgravity, contrasted with the vastness of space, I couldn’t help but think of how far humanity has come, but more specifically, the Jewish nation; it took the Jewish people nearly 2,000 years to once again have an independent state.
Embracing “Tikkun Olam”
My participation in the AX-1 mission embodied not only a deep appreciation for our collective accomplishments but also my commitment to the Jewish concept of “Tikkun Olam.” For those unfamiliar, Tikkun Olam translates directly as “repairing the world” and aspires to manifest divine qualities in our global society. My team and I embarked on this journey with the commitment to contribute in scientific, educational, artistic, and cultural endeavors; several of them with the goal to enhance and enrich the world.
We have made substantial contributions to the scientific community through conducting 34 experiments, carefully selected from a pool of over 80 submitted proposals. Our team’s chosen investigations encompassed a range of topics, including pioneering therapeutic strategies for diseases, exploring innovative methods of food production to mitigate the impact of climate change on our ecosystem, and the assessment of emerging technologies.
The microgravity environment of space served as an unparalleled testing ground, as the crucial variable of microgravity is embedded within these experiments. Within this unique context, the familiar natural processes observed on Earth undergo transformative changes, providing scientists with new perspectives on terrestrial challenges and offering pragmatic insights that hold relevance for upcoming space expeditions.
Art and Culture in Space
Space exploration is typically confined within the bounds of the scientific community. However, both science and art attempt to understand nature. My crew and I thought it vital to make space feel accessible to all, which is why integrating art and culture into this mission was imperative.
Over a dozen proposals were chosen to accompany us, from artists working with a variety of different mediums. The themes of these pieces include: non-human dimensions – the astronomical, the molecular, and the virtual; the human body in space; the psychology of travel in space; sound and communication on the ISS. These themes contribute to our understanding of humanity and connection – broadening our understanding of the universe and humanities place within it. Further, the psychological insights that these art pieces evoke are valuable to our future relationship with space – with the goal in mind that space can contribute to the collective human experience.
Art and culture are so seamlessly intertwined, without art there would be no culture and vice versa. Our mission was to integrate cultural inclusivity. The Israeli mosaic is not only made up of Jews, but Muslims, Christians, Druze, and more. It was important for me that all the Israeli citizens felt seen and a part of this space mission. We brought with us an art piece called Tradition and Gravity, where five Bedouin women discussed the transition of some Bedouin communities from their traditional lifestyle to a modern one. This was just one example of the multiple cultural relics and projects brought onto the mission. The cultural aspect of our mission was to remind our society that we are all a part of humanity, “we are made of the same stardust of which all things are made”, and we all contribute to the world as we know it.
Elevating Humanity’s Boundaries
In the boundless realm of space, our mission not only expanded our scientific frontiers but also nourished the spirit of interconnectedness, reiterating the timeless principle of Tikkun Olam – our call to repair, enrich, and harmonize the tapestry of existence for the betterment of all.