An Israeli Jew scheduled to fly as a payload specialist on the shuttle Columbia is making headlines. First, Col. Ilan Ramon, 47, of Tel Aviv, asked NASA to provide him with kosher food. More recently, he turned to his Chabad-Lubavitch representative, Rabbi Tzvi Konikov of Satellite Beach, to consult on the logistics of marking Shabbat in outer space.
That sent Rabbi Konikov on a mission of his own, consulting with rabbinic experts worldwide. “On earth,” explained Rabbi Konikov, “we mark the Sabbath every 7th day.” But Col. Ramon will be orbiting earth every 90 minutes. Each orbit counts as one day, because for the astronauts, the sun will have risen and set in each orbit. Should Col. Ramon then observe the Sabbat every 7th orbit?
“This has been a theoretical question for some time,” says Rabbi Konikov. “But rabbinical scholars have now been confronted with this as a real life situation.” The rabbis have resolved it, says Rabbi Konikov, explaining that “Col. Ramon will mark the Sabbath according to Cape Canaveral time—the site of the launch.”
Recognizing the role model he serves being the first Israeli astronaut, Col. Ramon, formerly the head of weapons-system development acquisition for the Israeli air force says, “I feel I am representing all Jews and all Israelis.”
“Ilan Ramon is an inspiration as a Jew; his integrity is reflected in his interest in observing Shabbos and kosher while in space despite his personal secular lifestyle,” says Rabbi Konikov, who at the request of Col. Ramon, will be present and offer his blessings at the launch, which has thus far been delayed due to technical difficulties.
As director of Chabad of the Space Coast for the past ten years, Rabbi Konikov has been involved with space missions before. When Jeff Hoffman flew on the shuttle Columbia, in March of 1996, Rabbi Konikov helped arrange that Hoffman be able to celebrate Chanukah while in space. Subsequently Rabbi Konikov was invited to Washington DC to present Dr. Hoffman with a menorah upon his return.
Ilan’s’s decision has had larger implications than he had expected: Rabbi Konikov recently received a phone call from a top NASA engineer about koshering the Radisson Resort at the Port, a popular hotel in Port Canaveral, near the launching site, where many Israeli officials will be staying on the day of the launch.