Tag Archives: NASA

Jew of the Week: Anatoliy Daron

The Jew Who Made Space Flight Possible

Anatoliy Davidovich Daron (1926-2020) was born in Odessa, Ukraine. An avid pianist, he initially wished to become a musician. At age 12, he read a book about space and was inspired to become a rocket scientist, with the hopes of one day flying to Mars. That same year, World War II broke out and the family fled to Russia’s Stavropol region. A few years later, the Nazi invasion came to his town just as he was graduating high school—he got his diploma, written by the principal on a scrap piece of paper, while everyone was fleeing! Doron went on to study rocketry in Moscow, and soon joined OKB-456, the Soviet state institution tasked with missile and rocket development, under the leadership of Valentin Glushko. There, Daron worked on the USSR’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). When the anti-Semitic Doctor’s Plot hit, Daron lost his job because he was Jewish. Thankfully, Stalin was soon out of the way, and Daron returned to his previous position. Daron’s team of engineers proposed that they could put a satellite in space using rockets similar to the ICBMs. They began working on the designs, but encountered serious problems. Then, while lying ill in bed with a high fever, Daron had an idea. It was the breakthrough the engineers were looking for, and ended up putting Sputnik, humanity’s first artificial satellite, in space in 1957. Historians mark this moment as the birth of the “Space Age”. It was in response to this event that the US government formed NASA (as well as what became DARPA). Not surprisingly, Daron became a Soviet hero and his family was moved out of their cramped one-bedroom, shared apartment to their own two-bedroom suite, together with a state-provided car and television. Daron continued to work for the Soviet space agency, and played a key role in making Yuri Gagarin the first human in space. He was the lead designer on the R-7, R-9, and UR-700 rockets, among others. All in all, he worked as a rocket scientist for more than 50 years, authored some 300 articles and patents, and was awarded the Order of Lenin. In 1998, Daron moved to the United States and spent the rest of his life there. When he passed away last year, he was described as one of the most important “unwritten figures in the history of space.”

Words of the Week

The Palestinians are always coming here and saying to me, ‘You expelled the French and the Americans. How do we expel the Jews?’ I tell them that the French went back to France and the Americans to America. But the Jews have nowhere to go. You will not expel them.
Vo Nguyen Giap, infamous Vietnamese general

Top left: Daron in the design room. Bottom left: The team that put the first man in space – Yuri Gagarin, sitting third from right, Daron standing, centre. (Image Source)

Jew of the Week: Jeff Hoffman

NASA’s First Jewish Astronaut

Jeffrey Alan Hoffman (b. 1944) was born in Brooklyn. He was always fascinated by outer space, and went to study astronomy at Amherst College in Massachusetts. Hoffman went on to get a PhD in astrophysics from Harvard, researching cosmic x-rays and gamma rays. He built one of the first aerial gamma ray telescopes. After this, he did postdoctoral work in the UK, eventually working as a project scientist for the European Space Agency. In 1975, Hoffman returned to the US to work at MIT. His main area of focus was x-ray bursts, and he authored over 20 papers on the subject, becoming the world expert on it. One time, he heard his wife reading a passage in a book saying that there will never be a Jewish astronaut. This inspired Hoffman to pursue just that, and he applied to NASA. In 1978, he was selected for NASA’s astronaut training program, together with Judith Resnik. The two became NASA’s first Jewish astronauts. Hoffman went on his first mission in 1985 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery, during which the crew deployed two satellites and conducted numerous scientific experiments. At this point, Hoffman became just the second Jewish man in space (following Russian cosmonaut Boris Volynov). During his fourth trip to space, Hoffman was responsible for repairing the Hubble Space Telescope. Before that flight, his rabbi asked him if he would take some Judaica with him, and Hoffman happily agreed. He took a mezuzah—which he affixed to his cabin with Velcro—a tallit, as well as a dreidel and mobile menorah, since it was during Chanukah. (Click here to see Hoffman spin a dreidel in space!) On another flight, Hoffman took a Torah with him and made sure to read it while flying over Jerusalem. During his last mission in 1996, Hoffman set a new record, becoming the first astronaut to spend 1000 hours aboard space shuttles. All in all, he spent more than 50 days in space, and logged over 21 million space miles travelled. Since retiring as an astronaut, he has been teaching as a professor at MIT, and visiting professor at the University of Leicester. He has also written a book called An Astronaut’s Diary.

When Jews and Greeks Were Brothers: The Untold Story of Chanukah

Words of the Week

…Science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion.
Albert Einstein

Jew of the Week: Lynn Margulis

The Rebel Evolutionist

Lynn Petra Alexander (1938-2011) was born in Chicago to a prominent Jewish (and passionately-Zionist) family. She got accepted to the University of Chicago when she was just 15 years old, and graduated with a BA four years later. That same year, she married (former Jew of the Week) Carl Sagan, then on his way to becoming a world-renowned scientist himself. She then went to the University of Wisconsin and earned her Master’s in genetics and zoology, followed by a PhD from UC Berkeley. Around that time, she divorced Carl Sagan and later married another scientist, Thomas Margulis. Although she divorced him as well, she kept the last name and is best known today as Lynn Margulis. In 1966, she became a biology professor at the University of Boston and remained there until 1988, when she became Distinguished Professor of Biology and Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts. Her 1967 paper “On the Origin of Mitosing Cells” was initially rejected by fifteen journals and stirred a great deal of controversy before being confirmed experimentally in 1978. Much of her research (and the opposition to it) was based on demonstrating major flaws within Darwin’s evolutionary theory. She would say that “Natural selection eliminates and maybe maintains, but it doesn’t create.” Margulis offered one hypothesis of her own, endosymbiosis, now a widely-accepted theory in biology and a key mechanism of evolution. Margulis also co-authored the first paper on the now-famous Gaia hypothesis regarding the intricate interactions between living things and the planet. Margulis worked tirelessly to the last days of her life. She co-authored another big (and controversial) paper in 2009—at the age of 71! Margulis has been called a “scientific rebel” and won countless awards, including a National Medal of Science from President Bill Clinton and a NASA Public Service Award for Astrobiology. She also has 15 honourary doctorates and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. In 2002, she was ranked among the 50 most important women in science.

Words of the Week

We never judge a statement by its author, but only on its own merit.
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (1707-1746), Derekh Tevunot