Scene from "One Strange Rock". Photo courtesy of National Geographic.
Among the 536 US astronauts who went into space were only a dozen Jews. Jeffrey A. Hoffman is in this elite group. As an astronomer and astrophysicist, he flew five space shuttle missions and repaired the Hubble Space Telescope in 1993 on his third flight.
Hoffman is now Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and will be featured in the new 10-part National Geographic Channel series "One Strange Rock," in which eight NASA astronauts will share their perspectives on the Earth and their planet Share space in the universe. His environmental message is clear.
"If people appreciate the uniqueness of the planet, they will make the connection we'd better not screw up," Hoffman told the Journal. "If we do not understand how the universe was shaped and how the Earth functions as a planet, we can not care."
Hoffman described the sight of Earth from space as overwhelming.
"There is a sense of grandeur, awe in the deepest sense," he said. "I never got tired of watching sunrises and sunsets, thunderstorms and the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis from above."
Hoffman, who joined the space program in 1979, undertook his first shuttle flight six years later. His only fear at the time was "screwed up," he said. To fear death, he said, "During the launch, you are sitting on 4.5 million pounds of explosives, and if this leads to inappropriate stress, you may be in a wrong profession."
While the astronauts of the Mission dedicated to each flight, Hoffman said the success of the Hubble mission, which was accompanied by high pressure and hard work, was "a great thrill" and its proudest achievement. "The future of NASA was at stake," he said. "This moment will accompany me for the rest of my life."
This Hubble repair flight coincided with Hanukkah, so Hoffman took a Dreidel with him to celebrate. He also brought other Jewish artifacts on other missions, including the atarot from his sons' Tallisim, a Sefer Torah now used in a synagogue in Houston, and a mezuzah adorning the door of the Bloomfield Science Museum Jerusalem. 19659010] "I have always been fascinated by the juxtaposition of Judaism, one of the oldest traditions of humanity, and space travel, which is one of the newest." – Jeffrey Hoffman
"I donated it in 1993 and 2013. I was back and we had a dedication for the 20th anniversary," said Hoffman. Some of the items he has taken with him can be seen in the exhibition "Jews in Space" at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York until June.
"I've always been fascinated by the juxtaposition of Judaism, one of humanity's oldest traditions and space travel, which is one of the newest," said Hoffman. Of his experiences, he often reports to Jewish community and youth organizations about which he wrote in 1986 in his book "An Astronaut's Diary". He would like to write another one, he said, but still has to find the time.
Hoffman, 73, was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Scarsdale, New York, in a reformed Jewish family of Eastern European descent. In 1965, he and his brother traveled with their paternal grandfather to their grandfather's hometown near Minsk, Belarus. "There was a pit where all the Jews dug a hole," and for his grandfather it looked "very painful," Hoffman recalled.
He noted that he once started at NASA and went to a Conservative. In Clear Lake, Texas, he was "exposed to some Jewish traditions that I did not grow up with, and I learned a lot," he said.
Hoffman, now living in Boston, visits Hillel at the MIT campus with his British wife, Barbara, a retired librarian. They met in 1972, when Hoffman worked at the University of Leicester in England and married two years later. They have two sons – Sam, 42, is a ceramist; and Orin, 38, is a robot engineer – and two grandchildren.
Although he was in Antarctica and the Himalayas, the Northwest Passage sailed and logged 21.5 million miles in orbit: "There are still places on earth I was not allowed to," Hoffman said. He plans to take his older grandson, who is now 12 years old, on a trip to Costa Rica next year, and in May he goes on a trip to Bhutan.
He also works with NASA on the Mars 2020 Rover Project in preparation for people who go to Mars and "live off the land". "For the first time, we will make oxygen with Mars resources – by removing carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere and passing it through an electrolysis unit," he said  Hoffman believes it's not important to continue exploring the universe just out of curiosity or because "one day an asteroid will come to Earth with our number," he said. "Global warming was first discovered on Venus, Venus is a hot hole in hell, Mars is a cold desert, how did Earth do it right, the real question is whether it will be able to continue supporting humanity. If we want to solve our problems on Earth, it has to happen on a planetary level. "
With everything he knows about astronomy, astrophysics, and space travel, Hoffman can not help but watch movies about space with a critical eye  "& # 39; Gravity & # 39; did a great job in the views from space, but the [Extra Vehicular Activities] were awful," he said. "They had no connection with reality, but I enjoyed the visual splendor."
As for the more accurate films, "The Marsian" did a pretty good job. "Apollo 13" was probably the best in this regard, "he said." If they get it right, it's always enjoyable. But I understand that a movie is a movie. "2001: A Space Odyssey" is still my favorite.
"One Strange Rock" premiered on March 26 and aired at 10:00 pm on Mondays on the National Geographic Channel.