Judith Resnik & Jeffrey Hoffman medal designed by Eugene Daub, struck by Medallic Art Co. in quantities
of 130 bronze, 60 pure silver, and 31 gold-plated silver. Obverse: Portrait, JUDITH RESNIK, DAUB.
Reverse: JEFFREY HOFFMAN and the Hubble telescope, DAUB. 49 x 47 mm.
One of the seven crew members who died in the tragic explosion of the space shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986, Judith (“J.R.”) Resnik was a pioneer for women entering NASA’s space program, and the second American woman astronaut to travel in space.
Born Judith Arlene Resnik on April 5, 1949, in Akron, Ohio, to first-generation Jewish Russian parents, Judith was a bright, curious child who, by kindergarten, could both read and solve simple math problems. Resnik received her master’s degree in engineering from the University of Maryland, and began work on her Ph.D. while employed as a biomedical engineer in the neurophysics lab at the National Institutes of Health.
In 1977, NASA began recruiting minorities and women to the space program, and Resnik applied. After receiving academic honors for her doctoral work in electrical engineering, Resnik was one of six women accepted into the program. She would be the second American woman to fly in space.
During her first six years at NASA, Resnik specialized in the operation of a remote-control mechanical arm that moved objects located outside the spacecraft. In 1984, on her first space flight on the shuttle Discovery, she was responsible for unfurling a 102-foot-long solar sail, which, on future missions, would be used to capture the sun’s energy.
NASA’s Challenger, Flight 51-L, was Dr. Resnik’s second space launch. She was to have assisted in photographing Halley’s comet. The mission endured three delays before taking off at 11:38 a.m. on January 28, 1986. Seventy-three seconds into the flight, the space shuttle exploded in midair due to hydrogen leakage caused by faulty O-ring seals. Along with her six crew members, Judith Resnik died in one of the worst space disasters in history.
Bibliography: Judith Resnik by Lynn Cohen, courtesy of www.jwa.org (Jewish Women’s Archive)
Dr. Jeffrey Hoffman was hooked on space since childhood, in the age of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. He grew up, got married, and one night his wife read aloud a passage in a book that said that Jews in New York City are so diverse that they can’t be stereotyped; the only valid generalization is that no Jew has ever been an astronaut or will ever be an astronaut. Hoffman decided to prove that wrong, and to honor his Jewish heritage in space.
He moved to Houston, became the first astronaut to log over 1,000 hours in space, and went up into the firmament five times, including a mission to fix the Hubble telescope.
On his first flight, Hoffman took a mezuzah along, and velcroed it onto the sleeping bunk the astronauts used in rotation. “You can’t nail a mezuzah to the door of a space shuttle,” the astronaut explained with a grin.
On a subsequent flight, he went up 400 miles at a speed of 18,000 mph — with six other crew members — to repair the Hubble, in September 1993. The Hubble mission occurred during Chanukah, and in addition to a mezuzah and other small Jewish objects, Hoffman took along a dreidel (a Chanukah top). Images were sent back to mission control, so he decided to explain what a dreidel was. He went on TV, talking about Chanukah and spinning thedreidel to demonstrate the game. The little top floated magically in the cabin, suspended in mid-air. Then he showed the cameras — and the world — a small portable menorah he brought along, but of course there was no candle lighting.
Dr. Hoffman has said: “I thoroughly hope that when humans go to settle Mars, Jews will go too and bring their Jewishness. It’s part of what makes the world holy and we should bring it wherever we go.”
Bibliography: The Ultimate Jewish Traveler by Judie Fein, courtesy of www.chabad.org.