Originally created 09/30/97

Vey is Mir



SPACE CENTER, Houston (AP) - He just started his four-month stay aboard Mir and already he has a holiday coming up: Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.

Astronaut David Wolf's mother doubts her son - the first Jewish American to live on the Russian space station - will be able to take time off to observe Rosh Hashana this week or the rest of the Jewish High Holy Days.

But "maybe he'll get a vision of the High Holidays closer to heaven than we will," said Martha Karatz of the Jewish Community Center of Indianapolis, Wolf's boyhood hangout. "It's a lovely thought, isn't it?"

And Wolf did take up a mezuza, a rolled piece of parchment in a case that traditionally is attached to the doorpost of a new home.

Mir will be Wolf's home until late January. He moved in Sunday - becoming the sixth American to live aboard the station - and spent Monday getting to know the place and his two new Russian crewmates.

"I doubt really if they're going to give him time off for a holiday, I really doubt that, and he wouldn't even consider asking," said his mother, Dottie Wolf. "He will just say `Happy New Year' to the Russians, in Russian, and maybe he will teach them something about our New Year."

With all the last-minute uncertainty over her son's launch to Mir and questions about his safety, Mrs. Wolf said she forgot to ask whether he packed the traditional honey and apples to celebrate the New Year. (He didn't, says NASA.) She was more interested in whether he remembered to take his screwdriver for the inevitable space station repairs. (He did.)

When he flew on space shuttle Columbia in 1993, Wolf took up a Torah pointer and a shofar, the ram's horn that is blown to announce the new year, for Indianapolis' Congregation Beth-El Zedeck, where he had his bar mitzvah 28 years ago.

This time, the synagogue gave him a mezuza, which he will return early next year and affix to a new educational wing.

"Since Mir is going to be David's home, we thought it would be appropriate," said Rabbi Sandy Sasso.

She and her rabbi husband, Dennis, offered a special prayer for Wolf during a Sabbath service attended by the astronaut's parents and grandmother on Sept. 20, five days before he left for Mir aboard space shuttle Atlantis.

The opening verse of the Shema, the prayer that is tucked inside the mezuza, is: "Hear, O Israel, the lord our God, the lord is one" - an especially fitting line considering how borders and divisions are invisible from space, the rabbis said.

Wolf also took up a mezuza for the Jewish nursing home in Indianapolis where his aunt lives.

His sister, Anne Berggren, said he probably won't unpack the two mezuzot. But he will open her Hanukkah gift after it arrives on a Russian supply ship in October - a menorah and gelt, or holiday candy that looks like coins.

"People don't realize when they're up there, they're just not putting out fires, so to speak, that they have lives back on Earth and it's important that they are able to observe certain holidays," Mrs. Berggren said.

Wolf, 41, an unmarried doctor and engineer, certainly will think about Rosh Hashana, which begins at sundown Wednesday night, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the following week, even if he can't observe them properly, his mother said. On his way to the launch pad last Thursday, he shouted: "Happy New Year, folks!"

(Of course, there's a sunrise and sunset every 90 minutes in orbit, one of the many aspects of spaceflight that could raise questions of Talmudic complexity for an observant Jew. Then again, observant Jews aren't supposed to be riding in vehicles on the High Holy Days or the Sabbath.)

Wolf spent Monday with his Mir predecessor, NASA astronaut Michael Foale, whose 41/2 -month mission included a devastating collision and frequent computer crashes and accompanying power outages.

The two will work side by side until the hatches between the docked Atlantis and Mir are closed Thursday, so Wolf can get the inside story on life aboard the cluttered, ruptured station. Atlantis is scheduled to pull away with Foale on Friday, after six days of linked flight, and return to Earth on Sunday.

Since arriving on Mir, Wolf has expressed his confidence in the safety of the 111/2 -year-old space station and the importance of his research there. Already, he's made a "critical" observation in a tissue-engineering experiment dedicated to cancer research.

Mrs. Wolf said her son would not have gone - and NASA would not have sent him - if Mir were as dangerous as some members of Congress and others say.

Still, as a mother, she worries: "He's going to be gone so long."