Back in November, NASA launched its Artemis 1 mission to lunar orbit and beyond. It was a small step for a planned return of astronauts to the surface of the moon. As we reported at the time, a crash test dummy dubbed Zohar, supplied by the Israel Space Agency to test radiation exposure, was along for the ride.
The spaceship returned safely to earth 25 days later, and to no one’s surprise except for perhaps the most devoted fans of Marvel comics, Zohar did not come back imbued with superhero powers by mysterious radiation.
But what we didn’t know was that the Israeli Space Agency also sent some less scientific items along for the ride as well. They were returned by NASA, along with certificates of authenticity, during last week’s 18th Ilan Ramon International Space Conference in Tel Aviv. The items included two Israeli flags and a pebble from the Dead Sea.
They also included three date seeds that archaeologists discovered at Masada; they date back 2,000 years. One such seed was germinated successfully in 2005; the result was named Methuselah and it successfully produced a new generation of dates. Since then, other trees have been grown from that ancient stash of seeds.
Now, the possibility exists of growing three trees that have roots in both ancient Judea and lunar orbit.
The fourth item included a mezuzah parchment with the text of the Sh’ma. Complete Torah scrolls have been taken into orbit before. The first one, in 1996, was carried by NASA Space Shuttle astronaut Jeff Hoffman. The next one went into space in 2003. It was carried by Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, whose mission on the Columbia ended tragically when it crashed on reentry. The first biblical text to reach lunar orbit were the first 10 verses of Genesis. The Apollo 8 astronauts read them aloud on Christmas Eve in 1968, as they became the first human beings to orbit the moon. The words were not in an actual Bible, though; instead, they were included as part of the mission flight plan. In 1970, the ill-fated Apollo 13 flight carried 512 microform copies of the King James Bible, each about one square inch. They were there at the behest of the Apollo Prayer League, a group of Christian NASA employees. Three hundred of these microbibles were taken to space again with Apollo 14, with 100 traveling to the moon in the Lunar Lander and the rest remaining in lunar orbit.
As NASA noted in its certification of the Israeli items, the Artemis 1 mission — and its accompanying mezuzah, Israeli flags, Dead Sea pebble, and ancient date seeds — “traveled 19,908 miles further than the Apollo capsule — 43,051 miles beyond the Moon and 268,563 miles from Earth.”