Behind the Headlines First Jewish Woman Astronaut Judith Resnik Ready for Litoff

“You’ve come a long way, baby,” the advertising slogan for a popular cigarette tells women, and it has been some time since the first woman fire fighter, first woman bus driver, first woman rabbi, and other such “firsts” made ripples in the news. But the first Jewish astronaut and second woman in space — that’s still something to boast about, qualified a bit with little cringes of envy from those of us who once read the Flash Gordon comic strip and envied his fearless woman partner, Dale.

How does Judith Resnik feel about becoming the second woman in space on or after June 25, and about her duties as mission specialist on NASA’s 12th space shuttle flight? Resnik is said to be excited about being on board the first flight on the Orbiter Discovery for a seven-day mission.

However, a curtain of silence surrounds Resnik and her five male crew members who have been shielded from the press for 60 days before liftoff. Every moment must be devoted to perfecting the techniques to make the spacelift a success, a moment for which Resnik has trained for five years after being selected as astronaut-in-training because of her eminently outstanding qualifications and highly technical work experience.

GREW UP IN AKRON

Thirty-five year old Resnik, whose brunette good looks and charming smile are now well-known, grew up in Akron, Ohio, and graduated from Firestone High School in 1966. She earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University in 1970, and a doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland in 1977.

After graduating from Camegie-Mellon, Resnik was employed by RCA in New Jersey and Virginia as a design engineer. Her RCA projects included developing circuitry for radar control systems, engineering support for NASA sounding rockets, and telemetry systems programs.

From 1974-77, Resnik was a biomedical engineer and staff fellow in the Laboratory of Neurophysiology at the National Institute of Health, Bethesda, MD. Just before she was selected by NASA in 1978, she was a senior systems engineer in product development with Zerox Corp. at El Segundo, Calif. Since completing her one-year training as an astronaut candidate, Resnik has worked on many projects in support of Orbiter development.

Somehow she still found time to become a classical pianist and enjoys bicycling, running, and flying during her free time. She is unmarried–perhaps career demands have put marriage off for the present.

GRANDFATHER WAS SHOCHET

Resnik’s Jewish background goes back to Kiev, Russia, which her paternal grandparents fled in the late 1920s. They first settled in Palestine where her father attended a yeshiva.

Later the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where her grandfather, Jacob, was a schochet, and her grandmother, Anna, worked for many Jewish organizations. Her father, optometrist Dr. Marvin Resnik, is also active in many Jewish causes.

In Cleveland, Resnik attended Hebrew school and a photo recently published of a preteen Judy shows her blessing Sabbath candles in Sunday school. She became bat mitzvah but is not strictly observant today.

In a pre-flight press conference that NASA permitted with ABC News on May 22, the intricate details of Shuttle Mission 41-D were explained by Commander Henry Hartsfield and his crews pilot Mike Coasts; mission specialists Mike Mullane, Steve Hawley, Judy Resnik; and payload specialist Charlie Walker from McDonnell Douglas Aircraft.

On the telecast, Resnik confidently discussed many of the scientific tests to be conducted on board the Orbiter Discovery in technical language only an engineer could comprehend completely, demonstrating clearly how fully prepared she is for this monumental undertaking.

Some of the other “firsts” for Discovery’s 173-mile orbit will be the first commercial pharmaceutical processing in space; testing of a large solar array; first flights of a new satellite, the SYNCOM, and a large mapping camera to be used with the space shuttle in the future.

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