If the proposed future of millions of people living and working in space — as it has been proposed by the billionaire space entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk — comes to fruition, it’ll be far more than just a few NASA astronauts grappling with how to observe their sun-centric religious practices.
Jared Isaacman, the business owner who is preparing climb aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon to become the first space tourist to fly to orbit from US soil on September 15 said that, although he is Jewish, he doesn’t plan to observe Yom Kippur, which begins at sundown the day of his launch.
“To be very honest, I’m actually not a religious person,” he said, acknowledging that he has been a contributor to a local synagogue in New Jersey.
The history of observing religious practices — however awkwardly — from the confines of a hypersonic spaceship is actually decades long and full of rich anecdotes.
Religion in space: A history
Jewish scholars have proposed similar ideas. Not all Jewish astronauts have attempted to observe Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, which falls on Saturday, during which Jews are supposed to refrain from all work activity. But Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon did attempt it in 2003, when he flew aboard a Space Shuttle mission and, in keeping with advice from “leading rabbinical experts,” he observed Shabbat in accordance with Cape Canaveral, Florida time, the place from which he had launched.
“It’s a little game — a dreidel — and it’s something that you spin, and then you see which side comes up. And according to that, you either win or lose and I was just trying to see how you might reinterpret the rules for spaceflight since there’s no up or down,” he explained to the camera.
But faced with the modern-day issue of space travel, Golinkin wrote that NASA astronauts should set their watches to the U.S. Central time zone of Houston, Texas, since that is where most NASA astronauts are based.
(The Inspiration4 crew is launching out of Florida, and presumably, if timed religious observance was an issue for any of them, they would then stick to the U.S. Eastern time zone.)
The rabbi of the synagogue Isaacman has supported, Eli Kornfeld of Hunterdon, New Jersey, told CNN Business that he agrees with Golinkin’s assessment. If he were one day living in space, he would still observe Yom Kippur fasts in accordance with Earth-based clocks. Though, he added, he would probably do everything in his power to avoid being in space during such an important Jewish observance. On Yom Kippur, Jews are not supposed work and typically avoid using electricity, driving cars or riding in airplanes.
Still, Kornfeld said, he acknowledged that if, one day, millions of people are living and working in space, the Jewish faith would evolve and adapt with the circumstances.
“I think one of the most beautiful things about Judaism — how it’s able to be relevant, and to adapt to all sorts of changing technologies and industry and discoveries,” he said.