Jewish astronauts continue to make their mark in history with Jessica Ulrika Meir participating in the first all-female spacewalk.
Last year was a good year for Jewish astronauts. On Oct. 18, 2019, Jewish astronaut Jessica Ulrika Meir, along with Christina Koch, took the first all-female spacewalk. Meir has served as a flight engineer onboard the International Space Station, Soyus MS-15, since September 2019. She also sent Chanukah greetings from space this past December and had a menorah with her on the Space Station.
Meir was born in Maine to a Swedish mom and Iraqi-Israeli father and grew-up attending her local synagogue. Meir had her first taste of being an astronaut when she attended a space camp at Purdue University at age 13. A highly educated woman, Meir has a bachelor’s degree from Brown University and a master’s degree in space studies from the International Space University in Strasbourg, France. She also became the 16th Jewish astronaut in history when counting Russian, Israeli and American colleagues.
I had read about Meir while searching for information on another topic. I found a great story in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History on Jewish astronauts (the unexpected story I found in the Archive is a prime reason I like my work).
I discovered an in-depth feature article on Jewish astronauts in the Jan. 13, 1995, issue of the JN: “When Jews Venture into Space.” It’s an excellent overview of Jewish participation in space exploration to that date with some short biographies of the leading Jewish astronauts of the era.
I did not know the first American Jewish astronaut was a woman, Judy Resnick. However, she did not want to be known as a “first;” she just wanted to do her job and fulfill her dream. Indeed, she did.
Born in Akron, Ohio, Resnick earned a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, and was an excellent airplane pilot. In 1978, she was one of eight women recruited from more than 8,000 candidates for NASA’s Astronaut Corps. Resnick made her first flight into space on the maiden voyage of the space shuttle “Discovery” in 1984. She was described as the “astronaut’s astronaut” after the mission. Her colleague on that flight, Mike Mullane, wrote, “I was also happy to be crewed with Judy … She was smart, hardworking and dependable, all the things you would want in a fellow crewmember.” Mullane later authored a book, Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut, about his career that includes a good deal of content about Resnick.
Unfortunately, Resnick’s story has a sad ending. She died on the Challenger Space Shuttle when it exploded shortly after takeoff on Jan. 28, 1986. Although this happened nearly 35 years ago, it is still a stark reminder of the dangers astronauts face — and the courage they all possess.
The article in the JN is now 25 years old, but it is a good contemporary read from the era where space travel was still in development. And it is good to know that, even in that era, Jewish astronauts had already made their mark on the Space Age.
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.