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Sun, shuttle pose problem for Israeli observing Sabbath

Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle
When the sun rises and sets every 90 minutes, as occurs aboard the space
shuttle Columbia when it's in orbit, how does a Jew observe the Sabbath? 

The proposition is no riddle. It was a real-life conundrum for Israel's
first astronaut Col. Ilan Roman, who before Thursday's launch sought to
make a symbolic observance of the Sabbath and Kiddush but in ways that
would not interfere with his official duties. 

"I'm not following the rules exactly. I'm secular in my background," said
the 48-year-old Ramon, an Israel Air Force pilot aboard Columbia for a
16-day science research mission. "But I'm going to respect all kinds of
Jews all around the world. So I will try my best to take any
opportunities to emphasize several traditions if time permits." 

Among them is the Sabbath, a period of prayer and contemplation that
traditionally begins with the setting of the sun Friday and ends with
nightfall the following day. Aboard Columbia, the sun rises and sets
every 90 minutes in orbit, complicating the calculation. 

After conferring with a pair of Florida rabbis, Ramon decided Sabbath
aboard the space shuttle would begin with Friday's sunset in Houston. The
Columbia crew observes Central Standard Time. 

The shuttle crew is working around-the-clock in two teams on the
mission's 80 experiments. Ramon's team awakens shortly after 5 a.m. to
prepare for its 12-hour shift and retires for the day just before 9 p.m. 

The Kiddush, a ritual blessing made over wine at the outset of the
Sabbath, was another tradition Ramon hoped to observe, though without the
alcohol. NASA forbids intoxicants. 

But the agency did arrange, at Ramon's request, to stock Columbia's
pantry with kosher foods. The meals were provided by a Deerfield, Ill.,
company that provides a variety of non-refrigerated specialty foods to
the military, airlines and campers. 

Columbia's astronauts spent their first full day in space initiating the
first wave of experiments on their agenda. The early studies ranged from
an investigation into the growth processes of prostate cancer to
improvements in the production of the catalytic materials used in
petroleum refining, and a look at the effects of weightlessness on the
tunneling behavior of ants. 

Investigators were especially pleased with the artificial production of a
prostate cancer tissue mass in a bioreactor, a revolving enclosure that
promotes a three-dimensional cell growth. Within one day of
weightlessness, the cell mass had reached the size of a golf ball,
something that would normally take a week to achieve on Earth. 

The astronauts periodically will collect samples of the malignant tissue
and preserve them for ground-based researchers, who hope the experiment
will reveal subtle mechanisms that trigger the spread of the disease to
the skeletal system. 

The Columbia crew also activated an Israeli-furnished instrument aboard
the shuttle that is designed to observe the westerly migration of dust
from the Mediterranean and Sahara Desert. The observations should help
researchers quantify the amounts of dust swept into the upper atmosphere
and how the tiny particles affect rainfall and influence changes in the
global climate

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