|Rona Ramon, left, widow of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, attended a farbrengen in honor of Jewish astronaut Garret Reisman presided over by Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Zvi Konikov.
The newest occupant of the International Space Station received a spiritual sendoff hours before the early Tuesday morning liftoff of the space shuttle Endeavor.
As Flight Engineer Garret Reisman sat preparing for his first-ever spaceflight from an isolation room at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Zvi Konikov presided over a Chasidic gathering known in Yiddish as a farbrengen for the astronaut's family and friends at a hotel just miles away.
Reisman, who was scheduled to perform one of the mission's five scheduled spacewalks at 9:23 p.m. EST Thursday, became the space station's first Jewish resident earlier in the day when he replaced Flight Engineer Léopold Eyharts, a European Space Agency astronaut. He is scheduled to return to Earth on the space shuttle Discovery after it launches in late May.
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After the Chasidic gathering, Konikov, who co-directs Chabad-Lubavitch of the Space & Treasure Coasts in Florida and works with Jewish space agency personnel and their families, extolled the "whole new world in space" marked by the near-completion of the space station. He said that many more Jewish astronauts were destined to follow in Reisman's shoes.
He noted that the guests of the farbrengen discussed the connection between science and religion.
"It's a real eye-opener," he explained, "the idea that one can live a Jewish life even in space."
Present at the gathering was Rona Ramon, widow of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who perished in the Feb. 1, 2003 breakup of the space shuttle Columbia as it reentered the Earth's atmosphere.
Konikov praised the fallen Ramon, and noted that NASA appointed Reisman to be its representative to his family in the days after the Columbia disaster.
"He acquired kosher food and took Jewish ritual items into space," Konikov said of Ramon. "He really set the tone for Jewish astronauts."
Speaking about Reisman, he said that he had his prayers and blessings.