Rookie astronaut Judy Resnik squirms uncomfortably in her bulky spacesuit, which adds 85 pounds to her petite, athletic frame. "T minus three minutes and counting," crackles the voice of the capsule communicator (CAPCOM) at Mission Control. Will we get off the ground today?, she wonders, nervously tugging the shoulder harness that tightly straps her into her seat on the flight deck. The maiden voyage of space shuttle Discovery had been scrubbed three times before today, including once, when an emergency command shut down the orbiter's main engines, four seconds before liftoff.
"T minus two minutes and counting," barks CAPCOM. "Discovery, close visors." Resnik locks the visor on her helmet and feels the cool flow of oxygen swirl around her face. I've trained for six years for this moment, she thinks, pushing aside her fear. And yet, as confident and jubilant as she is, the surgeon in the Flight Control Room notices that her heart rate quickens in anticipation of "riding the stack."
"10...9...8...7...6...ignite main engines..." Judy holds her breath. Discovery comes alive, shaking and vibrating. No malfunctions this time!
"3...2...1...liftoff." A burst of flame brighter than the sun explodes from the solid rocket boosters. Discovery leaps off the launch pad, and within eight minutes, Judy is streaking toward her dream at 17,000 miles per hour.
Judith Resnik, Ph.D., the first Jewish astronaut, logged 96 orbits of Earth during the Discovery mission. She died tragically during her second voyage, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded only seconds after launch. Resnik is remembered for her courage and pioneering spirit. "I think something is only dangerous if you are not prepared for it," she said.