Jewish-American astronaut Gregory Chamitoff, who will be part of the Discovery crew, will place the mezuzahs, designed by Israeli jeweler Laura Cowan, on the door post near his shuttle bunk. The astronaut noted that these mezuzahs will serve as a constant reminder of home, and give him a sense of Jewish identity.
These unique mezuzahs’ personal odyssey began some 10 years ago, when 37-year-old Cowan went to study jewelry design in London. Inspired by a film that she had seen dealing with space exploration, she began to design mezuzahs and other Judaica items shaped like the moon or a space shuttle. Cowan then returned home to Israel and began to sell these unique items in her Tel Aviv studio.
Several months ago, Cowan was contacted by Phil Hattis, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who asked her about the unique space-shuttle shaped mezuzahs that she designs.
“He asked me how much the mezuzahs weigh, and what they are made out of before he even inquired about the price,” said Cowan. “I later found out that he wanted to purchase a mezuzah as a gift for one of his students, Gregory Chamitoff, who would soon be embarking on a shuttle mission."
First mezuzah in space (Photo courtesy of NASA)
The mezuzah which Hattis purchased is a replica of the Apollo space shuttle that landed on the moon, complete with the windows which this famous shuttle had sported.
As it turns out, however, Chamitoff would not have to settle for this mezuzah alone. His close friend, Lisa Stone, also purchased a space-shuttle shaped mezuzah for him—this one more closely resembling recent models of NASA shuttles. Chamitoff was pleased to receive both mezuzahs, and even called Cowan to make sure that they are made of materials that can endure space travel.
“He didn’t want to have to leave behind either one of these mezuzahs,” Cowan enthusiastically stated. “He said that he would take them both to space and place him near his bunk to give him a sense of home as well as Jewish identity.”
Astronauts usually are allowed a very limited number of personal items on their missions, yet Chamitoff insisted on taking both mezuzahs with him on the six-month long mission. “They represent the two most important elements in his life: Space and the Jewish faith,” noted Cowan.
Cowan’s two mezuzahs will thus head out to space this May, adorning Chamitoff’s bunk aboard the shuttle. “I am very proud of the fact that a Judaica item that I designed is heading off into space,” said Cowan, “not only on a personal level but also as a Jew.”