First Jewess in Space


Stereotypes of Jewish women abound—overbearing Jewish mothers, JAPs, wizened bubbes from the old country—but nothing pokes holes in these stereotypes like Judith Resnik: engineer, astronaut, and first Jewish woman in space.

Resnik, the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, was working on her PhD in engineering when she was recruited by Star Trek star Nichelle Nichols to enter into NASA’s space program. Six years later she became the first Jewish woman in space (and only the second Jew in space) on the maiden voyage of the Discovery in 1984. Resnik had the puff of dark curly locks most associated with Jewish women, and in iconic photos from that mission, her hair floats weightlessly around her head like a liberated Semitic halo.

But Resnik’s story has a tragic ending. She was one of the astronauts aboard the doomed Challenger, which exploded shortly after launch, killing all aboard, on January 28th, 1986. Transcripts of the final minutes before the Challenger exploded have recently been released, so now you can read Resnik’s last words, before—in the words of John Gillespie Magee that Reagan immortalized on that sad day—she “slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.”

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