Jewish American astronaut Garrett Reisman will take the presidential proclamation of Jewish Heritage Month into space with him when he launches aboard the Atlantis shuttle later this month.
The 12-day mission, set for May 16, is likely to be the shuttle's final space flight, according to NASA. The proclamation, an annual event, was initiated by former President George W. Bush in 2006 to “celebrate the rich history of the Jewish people in America and honor the great contributions they have made to our country.”
Reisman, who said that he himself is one of a “long line of Jewish Americans who have been deeply involved in the space program,” added that he will turn the proclamation over to the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia upon his return.
Reisman is the first Jewish astronaut to have worked on the International Space Station. He spent three months there in 2008, during which time he sent a video greeting to the people of Israel as the nation celebrated the rebirth of the state on its 60th Independence Day.
The 42-year-old mission specialist told reporters during a NASA conference call late last week that he will also be carrying a photo of IAF Captain Assaf Ramon, son of Ilan Ramon, the Israeli astronaut who died in the 2003 Columbia space shuttle explosion.
The young Ramon, who three months earlier had graduated a flight course at the top of his class, died tragically last September when his F-16 jet crashed in the southern Hevron Hills as he and a second F-16 pilot were practicing dogfight maneuvers.
Reisman said he would bring the photo to honor both father and son, as part of his “life-long commitment” to the family of his former colleague.
Only two more space shuttle launches are planned after Atlantis makes this trip, according to NASA; a 9-day Discovery mission, slated for September 2010, and the Endeavor mission, originally scheduled for this July, but now pushed off until November.
This month's Atlantis mission will deliver the Russian-built Mini-Research Module-1 to add storage space and a new docking port for Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft, NASA said. A Russian multipurpose laboratory module is expected to be sent up on a Russian rocket in December 2011.