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Space Shuttle Tragedy

January 29, 1986
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The explosion of the space shuttle Challenger about a minute after launching here this morning is believed to have taken the lives of all seven aboard, including Dr. Judith Resnik, the first Jewish woman astronaut.

The apparent victims of the worst disaster in the history of the American space program were U.S. Navy Commander Francis Scobee, commander of the shuttle; Michael Smith, pilot; Ellison Onizuka, Ron McNair and Resnik, all mission specialists; and Greg Jarvis a specialist of the Hughes Aircraft Co.

In addition, there was one civilian passenger, Christa McAuliffe, a New Hampshire public school teacher who was to have broadcast two 15-minute lessons to school children all over the U.S. and Canada while the Challenger was in orbit.

The 100-ton, multi-million dollar spacecraft lifted off at 11:38 a.m. local time today in what officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) said was a "perfect launch." About a minute later it burst into a fireball, and smoking debris plunged into the Atlantic about nine miles downrange. Rescue ships rushed to the scene but as of this afternoon there was little hope of any survivors.


In June, 1984, Resnik, then 35, became the second woman to go into space. She and five male crewmembers of the Orbiter Discovery were on a seven-day scientific mission. Born in Cleveland, she grew up in Akron, Ohio and earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at Carnegie-Mellon University in 1970. She was subsequently employed as a design engineer by RCA and in that capacity worked on several NASA projects.

From 1974-77, Resnik was a biomedical engineer and staff Fellow in the Laboratory of Neurophysiology at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. In 1977 she received a doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland.

Before her selection by NASA for space flight training in 1978, she was a senior systems engineer in product development with the Zerox Corp. at El Segundo, Calif. After completing her year’s training as an astronaut, she worked on projects related to development of Orbiter Discovery.

Resnik’s paternal grandparents came from Kiev. They left Russia in the late 1920’s and settled in Palestine before coming to the U.S. Her father attended a yeshiva in Palestine.

Her family moved to Cleveland where her grandfather, Jacob, was a shochet, and her grandmother, Anna, worked for Jewish organizations. Her father, Dr. Marvin Resnik, was active in many Jewish causes. Resnik attended Hebrew school in Cleveland and was Bat Mitzvahed there.

The disaster that overtook space shuttle Challenger today followed a series of cancelled launchings due partly to technical problems and partly to weather conditions. There were no immediate indications as to what caused the spacecraft to explode.

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