In honor of International Women’s Day the Maltz Museum would like to honor the accomplishments of women by highlighting the stories of women that can be found in our collections. Today we are honoring Judith (Judy) Resnik, a pioneering woman whose story can be found at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage.
In 1949, Judy Resnik was born to Jewish immigrants from the Ukraine in Akron, Ohio. During her childhood, Resnik was often noticed for her academic brilliance, especially in science, math and classical piano. She attended Firestone High School in Akron and went on to achieve perfect SAT scores, the only female to do so that year, and one of only sixteen ever female students to ever do so. She also graduated valedictorian from Firestone High School in 1966.
Although she was offered a spot at the prestigious Julliard Academy to study piano performance, Resnik declined this offer to attend Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon) in Pittsburgh. She went on to earn her B.S. and Ph.D. in electrical engineering with honors from the University of Maryland. While Resnik was working on her doctoral degree, NASA was recruiting for the space program, and began focusing on enlisting women and other minorities. Resnik had never expressed overt interest in the space program, but was encouraged to apply by her advisor and mentor, Professor Angel Jordan.
At the age of 28, Judy Resnik was recruited into NASA’s Astronaut Corps, she was one of six women who were chosen out of over 8,000 applicants. She became the second American woman, and first Jewish woman to fly in space. She helped engineer and fabricate the shuttle’s robotic arm, which she was responsible for operating on the maiden voyage of Discovery in 1984, which was used to capture solar power. During this voyage, she was shown via live television with a sign that read “HI DAD.”
Resnik’s second voyage was with NASA’s Challenger, in which she was responsible in assisting and photographing Halley’s Comet. After three delays, the Challenger took off at 11:38am on January 28th, 1986. Due to a hydrogen leak, the Challenger exploded in midair, a mere seventy-three seconds into the flight, killing all seven crew members. Judy was 36 at the time of her death.
Judy Resnik’s legacy continues to inspire people from all walks of life. She has had several schools, lecture halls, and landmarks named for her since her death. The Society of Women Engineers recognizes one woman every year who has innovated the space industry in some way with the Resnik Challenger Medal.. Resnik’s kindness, brilliance and passion for STEM continue to be an inspiration to people today.
-Wesley Aaron Bane, Manager, Volunteers & Visitor Services