Major Tim's mezuzah mission

By Meg Hiller, March 22, 2016
Major Peake and his mezuzah

Major Peake and his mezuzah

British astronaut Tim Peake has a mezuzah attached to his sleeping booth on board the International Space Station (ISS), it has been confirmed.

The fixture was spotted by a JC reader, Asher Verosh during Major Peake's most recent video link. As the astronaut demonstrated live on BBC Breakfast how he carried out his morning duties, it could just be seen beside him.

A spokesperson confirmed the object in question was a mezuzah, which had been presented to Major Peake, 42, by Chabadniks in Kazakhstan before he set off from the country's cosmodrome on his six-month space mission to the ISS in December.

"Our astronauts receive a lot of gifts before they blast off, but only have limited space in their private knapsacks," the spokesperson said.

"Like everyone else on the ISS, Major Peake had only a 1.5kg luggage allowance, so - as well as a flashlight, sick bag and photos of his family - he chose to take this memento because of its small dimensions.

"Naturally, he wasn't able to nail the artefact to the wall of the ISS. That could have major implications for the integrity of the craft. But we provided him with special 'gecko adhesive grippers'."

He added that while Major Peake is not Jewish, "being in space has a funny way of bringing out the spiritual side in people".

Major Peake is not religious, but is understood to have developed an interest in Judaism from his wife, Rebecca.

He once compared the Soyuz spacecraft which carries astronauts to the ISS to a "very tiny temple or shul" and said that seeing Earth for the first time from space was like "living the book of Genesis".

Since the mezuzah, which is made of Persian marble, was first spied on TV, other JC readers have also claimed to have seen Major Peake kissing and touching the artefact during his live-stream video links on Twitter.

Rabbi Jonathan Vashti, a chaplain, said he was "unsurprised" that the astronaut appeared to have found faith in space.

"It is a strange phenomenon," Rabbi Vashti said. "You might think it would give people a God complex - being so far away and observing the world from afar, but it is actually very humbling.

"In times of humility, we reach out for solace. We have actually had two former cosmonauts convert to Judaism upon returning to Earth.

"Major Boris Morde-Chai even stitched his tallit to the inside of his spacesuit for his 1983 mission."

American engineer Gregory Hamanitoff was the last Jewish astronaut to travel to the space station, having completed his final mission in 2011. He hit the headlines for taking vacuum-packed bagels on his first mission into orbit.

Last updated: 4:39pm, March 22 2016