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NASA Lewis Welcomed Judy Resnik

Woman smiling sitting at table.
Astronaut candidate Judy Resnik meets members of the public at Lewis’ Visitors Information Center following her presentation to center employees.

On July 18, 1979, Akron native Judy Resnik returned to Northeast Ohio to discuss her new career as an astronaut with employees of NASA’s Lewis Research Center. Resnik, a member of the January 1978 astronaut class, attracted great interest. The 35-person class was NASA’s first group of new astronauts since 1968 and the first to include female and minority candidates.

Resnik trained as a classical pianist while growing up in nearby Akron and was an exemplary high school student with strong interests in math and science. She went on to earn engineering degrees from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Maryland.

Resnik relocated several times during the 1970s while working as an engineer with the RCA Service Company, the National Institutes of Health, and Xerox Corporation.

In July 1976, NASA announced that it was accepting applications for space shuttle pilots and mission specialists. Intrigued by the opportunity to make an important contribution in a short amount of time and confident that her technical background, love of flying, and physical fitness would qualify her, Resnik decided to apply.

Resnik’s visit to Lewis in July 1979 was a hectic affair for someone who preferred to avoid the spotlight. NASA representatives arranged for her to appear on a local television show in the morning. Afterwards she gamely fielded, sometimes stereotypical questions from reporters during a press conference. Resnik was again the center of attention during a lunch with members of Lewis’s management team.

Resnik returned to the center in the afternoon to speak to employees. She narrated a film on NASA’s astronaut training program, answered questions, and signed autographs afterwards. Resnik was more at ease mingling with students and members of the public in a later event at Lewis’ Visitors Information Center.

In August 1984 Resnik became NASA’s second woman in space while serving as a mission specialist on STS-41. She used the shuttle’s robotic arm to operate an experimental 10-story-tall solar array panel and used it to break potentially dangerous ice particles off the exterior of vehicle. Resnik earned a NASA Space Flight Medal of Honor for her efforts and returned to Lewis to discuss the mission in October 1984.

Resnik was slated to operate the robotic arm again in January 1986 as a mission specialist on the STS-51 Challenger mission. She and her six crewmates, however, perished when the vehicle broke up during its ascent into space. Senator John Glenn spoke at her memorial service in Akron. Institutions in Akron and across the country have maintained Resnik’s legacy by dedicating various buildings and scholarships in her honor.

Female with imaging equipment aboard the space shuttle.
Judy Resnik is shown onboard the Discovery space shuttle during STS-41. Henry Hartsfield, the commander of the mission, described Resnik as “an astronaut’s astronaut… not satisfied with second best.”

Robert S. Arrighi
NASA Glenn Research Center