Astronaut at National Museum of American Jewish History

The first event held at Philadelphia’s New National Museum of American Jewish History is literally out of this world.

Bonnie Squires

Garrett Reisman, with his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering, who was the first Jewish member of the space station crew, went up the first time in 2008 where he was able to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary. Israeli President Shimon Peres gave him the symbol of State of Israel to take with him for the occasion. His second trip was just in May of this year, where he and a fellow astronaut had to do a space walk in order to install an additional module to the space station.  
   The National Museum of American Jewish History hosted Reisman in a special event which was the first to be convened in the not-yet-completed new site of NMAJH.  Reisman, dressed in a flight suit, entranced the crowd of founding members of the museum with his stories of his space flight and one very interesting challenge he encountered in trying to install the new module on the space station.

More after the jump.

Bonnie Squires talks with Dr. Garrett Reisman.

   It seems the plug and socket would not fit which would have activated the electrical system.  Nos here was Reisman and his colleague, out in space, trying to comlete a task they had trained for during an entire year.  And it wasn’t working.
   Then Reisman had an aha! moment.  Calling into the space ship, he asked when they would be traveling directly into the rays of the sun.  Then he covered the plug end of the module to shield it from the heat, allowing the socket to expand from the incredible heat from the sun.  And voila!  He was able to push the plug into the socket.
   Of course, Reisman may have more scientific jargon for the plug, but I used the language most of us can understand.
   Reisman used a Star Wars / SAT analogy in order to relate how incredibly large the International Space Station is: “The Space Shuttle is to International Space Station, as the Millenium Falcon is to the Death Star.”
   A highlight of the evening, in addition to getting to ask questions of a Jewish astronaut, was the NASA film of his voyage, including some lighter moments of “flying” inside the spaceship and bobbing for M&Ms.
   But when I asked him how many hours a day he and his six colleagues had to work, not play, he answered matter-of-factly that in the entire twelve-day voyage, they only had four hours off.  And that was why, in the playful scenes in the film, all the astronauts were wearing the same shirts.  It all took place in one four-hour down-time segment.

   Impressive was Reisman’s commitment to the late astronaut from Israel, Ilan Ramon, who was lost in the Columbia shuttle disaster.  Reisman and Ramon had been in the same training unit, even sharing a Passover Seder together. Naturally, Reisman took up the flag for both American Jewry and Israel when Ramon was lost.
   Reisman had carried into space with him the original April 2006 proclamation that had created Jewish American Heritage Month.  
   Michael Rosenzweig, President and CEO of NMAJH, and Gwen Goodman, executive director emerita, praised Philadelphia Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and U.S. Senator Arlen Specter for their work in passing Jewish American Heritage Month and for having NMAJH designated as the museum of American Jewish history in America.

NMAJH board member Joe Zuritsky and his wife Renee; Executive Director Emerita Gwen Goodman; and CEO Michael Rosenzweig.

   Marcia Jo Zerivitz initiated the legislation for a Florida Jewish History Month, which was became the nation’s first such commemoration each January when it was signed into law by Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) in 2003 saying “Everyone else has a month. We need a month too. We have so many stereotypes to debunk.”
   Zerivitz then set out to establish a National Jewish History Month despite a decision by the Bush administration to create “no more new months”. Debbie Wasserman Schultz took it on as a personal project to overcome the moratorium and succeeded in finding 250 co-sponsors to the legislation which gave it the critical momentum to come to the floor of the House of Representatives on December 14, 2005 where it passed unanimously 423-0. Senator Arlen Spector championed a similar measure in the Senate on February 14, 2006 and the bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush in April 2006. Since National Jewish History Month has been observed each May.  
   The officials from the Jewish Museum of Florida and the Jewish American Heritage Month Coalition turned over the 2006 proclamation to the NMAJH, posing with the astronaut. The proclamation was launched May 14, 2010 on the Space Shuttle Atlantis travelling 4,900,000 miles on its 186 orbits before returning to Earth on May 25, 2010.
   After the flight, Reisman returned home on May 27 to find an invitation from President Obama in his mail inviting him to the first annual Jewish Heritage Reception at the White House on that same day. Reisman called the White House to say he would not be able to make it, but at least he had a good excuse for RSVPing so late: He was in outer space at the time.
   The fabulous new site of NMAJH will open to the public the weekend of November 12, 2010. The museum will feature the Mezuzah which Reisman installed on the Space Shuttle Atlantis next to his sleep station.
  Congreswomen Allyson Schwartz was instrumental not only in passing National Jewish History Month but also in a joint resolution recognizing the museum as the official National Museum of American  Jewish histroy.
   At the reception after the event, Betty the Caterer feted everyone with space themed fare including Dipping Dots, Tang, Star Fruit and Cosmic Cocoa. Afterwards, Reisman returned to his alma mater the University of Pennsylvania to catch up with some of his old friends.

Two Torahs: Columbia Torah (left) and Atlantis Torah (right).

  He then continued to California, where he participated in premiere of the film An Article of Hope at the San Diego Jewish Film Festival. The film is a documentary about the little Torah which Ilan Ramon took with him on the ill-fated Space Shuttle Columbia. Ramon received this Torah scroll from his Physics professor Joachim Joseph who received it when he had a secret Bar Mitzvah as a boy in the Nazi concentration camp Bergen Belsen.
  Everyone clearly agreed with National Jewish History Month coordinator Abby Schwartz that “it gives us such nachos to see a nice young Jewish boy honoring his people from outer space.”

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