Space Shuttle Discovery Makes its Final Voyage
Historic Day Reminds us of Jews’ Contributions to Space Travel
History was made on April 17, 2012 as the space shuttle Discovery made its final voyage. And, for this historic occasion, Discovery literally went out on top - that is atop a modified Boeing 747 carrier jet that taxied down the Kennedy Centre's runway at dawn.
The shuttle, which made its final spaceflight in March 2011, sat on top of the jumbo jet as it made its way to its final resting place in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Virginia.
When one thinks of space travel, one rarely connects the practice with Jews or Judaism. In fact, with the exception of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, two well-known Jews who were famous for their fictional forays into intergalactic space travel aboard the U.S.S Enterprise during Star Trek’s television run, not much is known about Jews and space.
The truth is, there are a number of heroic Hebrews who developed a hankering for freeze-dried food and Tang, including probably the most well-know Jewish astronaut of all, the late Judith Resnick, an American and the first Jewish woman ever to claim “I need space,” before finding plenty of it as the first Jewish astronaut in space. She was a mission specialist on the first voyage of the Space Shuttle Discovery and also on the Challenger. She died as part of the ill-fated Challenger disaster, which took place on January 28, 1986, when it broke apart just 73 seconds into its flight, leading to the deaths of its seven crew members.
Colonel Ilan Ramon was an Israeli Air Force combat pilot and the first Israeli astronaut to take part in a space mission. In 1987, during a long and highly distinguished career in the Israeli Air Force, Ramon received his Bachelor of Science degree in electronics and computer engineering from Tel Aviv University, just ten years before his fatal space mission, Space Shuttle Columbia, on which he was the payload specialist.
Jeffrey Hoffman, the first Jewish man in space, was also the first fellow to bring a Torah into the never-reaches of the galaxy during his 1996 Space Shuttle Columbia mission. Astronaut, David Wolf, another Jew, once spent Chanukah in orbit while trying – with no success- to light his menorah.
Garrett Erin Reisman, a native of Morristown, New Jersey, is an American engineer and former NASA astronaut. He was a backup crew member for Expedition 15 and joined Expedition 16 aboard the International Space Station for a short time before becoming a member of Expedition 17. He returned to Earth 14 June 2008 on board STS-124 on Space Shuttle Discovery. He was a member of the STS-132 mission that traveled to the International Space Station aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis from May 14 to 26, 2010. Reisman was the first Jewish crew member on the International Space Station. He sent a greeting from space to the people of Israel during the Jewish State’s 60th Yom Ha’atzmaut in May 2008.
So, the next time a rocket or a shuttle takes off from Cape Canaveral, let’s stop and say the Tefilat HaDerech, the Hebrew traveller’s prayer recited by observant Jews before they travel by sea or air, just in case there are any Members of the Tribe up there.
Hmm, makes me kind of wonder. Did Shatner and Nimoy ever bother to do the same?