Birth: April 5, 1949
Death: January 28, 1986
Second American woman in space
First Jewish woman in space
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons / NASA
Today marks the thirty eighth anniversary of the tragic explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger which killed its seven crew members including mission specialist Judith Resnik. The Challenger mission was to be Resnik’s second space shuttle flight that followed her 1984 mission aboard the shuttle Discovery. In being selected for that mission she earned the honor of being the second American woman in space and the first Jewish woman in space.
Resnik studied engineering, receiving degrees from Carnegie-Melon and the University of Maryland including a doctorate in electrical engineering in 1977. It was at this time that NASA began recruiting for new astronaut candidates, with an emphasis on adding women to their program. Applying on somewhat of a whim she was part of the first six women selected as candidates in 1978. After a year-long training and evaluation period, she became a mission specialist and was eligible to be part of a space shuttle flight crew. On her first flight she was responsible for operating the remote manipulator system that she had helped design including using it to help remove ice particles from the shuttle that could have proven to be dangerous upon reentry. During the mission the crew also activated a solar cell wing experiment, deployed three satellites, and a series of photographic experiments including using an IMAX motion picture camera.
It was a cold morning in Florida when after three scrubbed launches the shuttle Challenger left the launch pad for the final time. Barely over a minute into the flight, the shuttle exploded due to faulty O-rings allowing a hydrogen leak leading to the first fatal accident involving an American spacecraft in flight. In her honor craters on the moon and Venus were named the Resnik crater, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers gives a Judith A. Resnik Award annually. In 1986 families of the Challenger Crew established the Challenger Center with a goal to increase children’s interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Resnik was awarded the NASA Space Flight Medal for her first flight and along with the rest of the Challenger Crew the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 2004.
Written by Angela Goad