Shalom Life | January 18, 2015

Jewish Hall of Fame: Judith Resnik

Resnik was the first Jewish female astronaut, and the second woman to travel to outer space

By: Caitlin Marceau

Published: January 14th, 2015 in Business » World

Since the dawn of time, Jewish people have contributed greatly to various fields, from sports to entertainment to politics to porn. With our Breakthrough Jew feature, we recognize those who are up and comers in these various industries, identifying those great innovators and leaders in the contemporary world who are making a mark on society that will last a lifetime.

With the Jewish Hall of Fame, we recognize the remarkable advancements members of our community have made on today's society. These are people who have truly changed the world, and have earned the respect and praise of the members of today's younger generation.

ShalomLife’s Jewish Hall of Fame is our ongoing tribute to the greatest Jews who have ever lived; be sure to catch us weekly with our latest inductees, and tweet us @ShalomLife with your suggestions.

Check out last week's inductee into the Hall of Fame here.

Hall of Fame Member: Judith Arlene Resnik

Born: April 5th, 1949, in Akron, Ohio.

Died: January 28th, 1986, in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Born to Sara and Marvin Resnik, Jewish emigrants from Ukraine, in 1949, Judith Arlene Resnik would one day make history by becoming the second female, and first Jewish female, astronaut.

Resnik and her family lived in Akron, Ohio, with her younger brother Charles, and the two children attended Firestone High School. While there, Resnik developed a passion for math and sciences, excelling far beyond her peers in this field of study. Resnik, who graduated from Firestone in 1966, was the only student to receive a perfect SAT score, the only woman to manage that during her graduating year.

Resnik went on to attend Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh. The school focus was on science and technologies, and is considered to be one of the best in the world. Resnik pursued a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering, which she obtained in 1970. That same year she married fellow classmate Michael Oldak. Unfortunately, the marriage between Resnik and Oldak wasn’t a happy one, and the couple divorced five years later.

Upon her graduation from Carnegie Mellon, Resnik began to work for RCA in their design department as a design engineer. It was here that she got her first chance to work with NASA, as she worked on several projects that had been contracted to RCA for the space agency.

Resnik then began to work with the National Institutes of Health, and then as a systems engineer for Xerox, while she pursued her doctorate. She graduated with a Ph. D. in electrical engineering from Maryland University. Upon graduation, Resnik was recruited for NASA’s astronaut program in 1978.

Resnik’s first mission for NASA was as a mission specialist for the maiden trip of Discovery in 1984. Resnik was the second woman, and the first Jewish woman, to go to space. Her participation in the Discovery mission was widely covered by the media, as her dark curls and joyful attitude made a bright contrast the the short haired men and serious demeanor of former NASA project. Resnik was even filmed in zero gravity holding up a sign saying hello to her father.

Resnik then joined as a mission specialist for the Challenger voyage, which was to end in tragedy in 1986. Resnik, along with the six other astronauts on board, died when the shuttle broke apart after less than two minutes of flight. According to reports, one of the shuttle’s O-ring seals in the solid rocket booster failed during takeoff. The failure of the O-ring caused hot gas to pressurize within the rocket, causing sections of the rocket to separate and then disintegrate during the rocket’s flight.

The Challenger came apart over the Atlantic ocean, not far from Cape Canaveral. After the crash of Challenger, an examination of the debris revealed that Resnik, along with two other members of the crew, had activated their Personal Egress Air Packs. These packs provide users with roughly six minutes of breathable air in the event that there should be a problem with the vehicle while grounded. The activation shows that at least Resnik was still alive when the cockpit separated from the rest of the Challenger.

Resnik was well loved and a wonderful example to women, and would-be astronauts alike, from around the world. Although she’s gone, stories of her bravery and her legacy continue to inspire people to venture into space and explore the universe around us.

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