A Jew on Mars?

By Anthony Weiss

Published March 17, 2006, issue of March 17, 2006.
  • Print
  • Share Share

When Jason Sherwin told his parents he wanted to be an astronaut, they weren’t thrilled. Jews, they reminded him, “don’t have a good track record” in outer space.

Notwithstanding the “Jews in Space” bit from Mel Brooks’s “History of the World: Part I,” they’re right.

Arguably, the first Jewish astronaut was Elijah. According to the Bible, “a fiery chariot with fiery horses suddenly appeared… and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.” He didn’t come back down.

In modern times, the first Jew in space, Judith Resnick, died in the Challenger explosion of 1986. In 2003, Ilan Ramon of Israel died when the space shuttle Columbia broke up.

So, Sherwin’s parents may rest a bit easier to know that his first mission is only as far as Utah.

On March 18, Sherwin and the other eight members of Crew 47 will move for two weeks into the Mars Desert Research Station, an 8-meter-wide, 8-meter-high cylinder in the Utah desert. Funded by a private, nonprofit organization called the Mars Society, the MDRS has been used since 2001 to simulate and test the conditions for future manned space flight to Mars. Serving under commander Jan Osberg, Sherwin and seven other Georgia Tech students will make astronomical observations, monitor radiation levels (Sherwin’s specialty), and observe the psychological and cognitive effects of sticking nine people in a small, airlocked space in the desert for two weeks.

Sherwin is not the first Jew to work in the MDRS — Israel’s Shahar Lazar spent two weeks there in January 2003 — but he has found that Jews are a rare breed in the realm of aerospace engineering.

Sherwin’s parents have stuck with more traditional Jewish occupations. His father, Rabbi Byron Sherwin, is a professor and former vice president at Chicago’s Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies. He is also, apparently, something of a fantasist: His first novel, “The Cubs and the Kabbalist,” is subtitled, “How a Kabbalah-Master Helped the Chicago Cubs Win Their First World Series Since 1908.” The book is due out at the beginning of April. Jason’s mother, Judith, is a lawyer and a “crazy Cubs fan,” her son said.

Still, there have been a few Jewish space success stories. During his 1996 flight on the Columbia, astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman read from a scroll known as the “Space Torah,” which is now in circulation (though not in orbit) at Houston’s Congregation Or Hadash. David Wolf spent more than four consecutive months on the Mir space station in 1997 and 1998, during which he celebrated Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Hanukkah. “I probably have the record dreidel spin,” he told Hadassah magazine. “It went for about an hour-and-a-half.”

Meanwhile, NASA is gearing up to go back to the moon, and, eventually, to Mars.

Jews on Mars? Stay tuned.

Find us on Facebook!
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.