• Isaac Simon

Jewish-American Astronaut, Judith Resnick, Dies Abroad Space Challenger, 1986

On This Day in Jewish History: January 27, 1986

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Judith Resnick was killed in the 1986 Space Challenger Mission STS-51-L explosion. At the time of the mission, Resnick was the first Jewish woman, the second American and just the fourth woman ever to be in space.

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The daughter of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants, Resnick was part of a family that included a line of rabbis. Raised in Akron, Ohio, Resnick was raised in an observant household and had a Bat Mitzvah. Resnick was considered brilliant from the beginning, mastering anything and everything that came her way whether it was languages, mathematics or the piano. She took pride in her skills and graduated valedictorian from Firestone High School. She also scored a perfect score on the SAT’s and was the only woman to do so in the year she took them.

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Resnick enrolled at Carnegie Mellon at 17 and was the third female in the electrical engineering department. After earning her Bachelors of Science degree in 1970, Resnick earned her Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland in 1977.

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Less than a year later, Resnick was recruited by NASA. Like her time in college, she was one of only six women selected out of an 8,000 person application pool. She was 28 years old. Resnick’s recruitment was part of a women’s astronaut program spearheaded by Nichelle Nichols, who developed the project pro bono.

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Resnick’s first journey into space took place in September 1984 with Discovery and lasted into September. She was the first American-Jewish astronaut ever to travel into space. Following the Challenger disaster, Resnick’s body was the first to be retrieved from the cockpit by the USS Preserver. In 1986, The Challenger Center was established by the families of the victims to honor their loved ones’ legacies and to promote children’s interest in STEM.

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Sources & Further Readings:

https://web.archive.org/web/20091008151817/http://www.astronautix.com/astros/resnik.htm The Epic Flight of Judith Resnik, by Scott Spencer and Chris Spolar, The Age - Jan 16, 1987 "Judith Resnik". Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved 2009-11-20 https://web.archive.org/web/20091222042250/http://grin.hq.nasa.gov/ABSTRACTS/GPN-2004-00017.html Women in Space: 23 Stories of First Flights, Scientific Missions, and Gravity-Breaking Adventures, Karen Gibson (Chicago Review Press, 2014), page 91

Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary Completing the Twentieth Century, Volume 5, Susan Ware, Harvard University Press, 2004 page 426 https://www.challenger.org/who-we-are/#history

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