In an interview with the Times of Israel, two Jewish astronauts, Jeffrey Hoffman and Steve MacLean, talk about their experiences of traveling to outer space with a Torah. Hoffman was the first to read the Torah in space on the space shuttle Colombia in 1996. And MacLean followed him, bringing the holy scroll aboard the Atlantis ten years later in 2006.
Hoffman had discussed taking a Torah into space with Rabbi Shaul Osadchey, who at the time was the rabbi at Hoffman’s congregation, Or Ami in Houston.
“He kept bringing it up, the idea of a Torah in space,” Hoffman recalled. “I thought it was a great idea. I explained that it had to be small and light. It took a long time for him to locate an appropriate Torah. It had to be completely kosher…”
The first English reading of the Book of Genesis took place on Christmas Day, 1968 by the Apollo 8 astronauts.
“I was definitely not unaware,” Hoffman said. “Of course, this is the Hebrew Torah. Nevertheless, I think it was the same feeling, a beginning. [Apollo 8] was the first time humans ever got as far as the moon. They wanted to recognize it. I think it was appropriate. It did not make the Bible or Torah any more special, it made space more special. It humanized it.”