Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hanukkah in Space

Last week my family and I celebrated holiday of Hanukkah, also known as the Festival-of-Lights. It commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE, and specifically the miracle of oil supposed to last one day actually lasting for eight.

After lighting 12 menorahs on Friday (that's 108 candles, in case you were wondering) with some Israeli friends on Friday, I got curious to check how Hanukkah would be celebrated in space, specifically in micro-gravity.

There are several aspects of Hanukkah - preparing and eating deep fried food (mainly Sufganiot and Latkes), playing with a Dreidel and lighting the Menorah.

Deep frying food in micro-gravity is such a bad idea that I won't even try to describe it. Hot oil flying everywhere? No safety code of any space agency will ever allow that, and for good reasons. I can imagine NASA also wouldn't want astronauts to eat food that often leads to digestive problems and is not considered nutritional.

Playing the Dreidel game would be pretty tricky, as gravity makes the dreidel stop spinning and fall on one of its four sides. Spin it in micro-gravity and it will continue to spin, slowing down due to the friction with air (in case it's done inside, that is) or it would drift and hit something. A potential fix for that might be simulating gravity by embedding magnets in the four sides of the dreidel and spinning it over an iron plate. I don't think that's ever been done, and if there's anyone from NASA reading this, surely a future mission to the ISS can accommodate this...

As for lighting the menorah, several issues are entailed. First, the flames consume oxygen, which is at least at this point not in abundance on the ISS, definitely not for the wasting. But beyond that, the flames would look very different in micro-gravity. Another interesting aspect would be the lack of the candle dripping aspects, as there's nothing to pull melted drops of wax.

Hanukkah was actually celebrated in space by Jeffry Hoffman aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour during the Hubble servicing mission STS-61 in 1993. Click here for a video showing that Hanukkah in space.


BrianShiro said...

Maybe you could have a menorah with led lights that you turn on each day instead of flames. For the Dreidel game, perhaps it could be simulated in a computer animation that realistically makes it fall like it would in real life. I'm sure astronauts have eaten fried food in space before. It would just have to be prepared on the ground and then could be re-heated in orbit. I agree that actually deep frying something in microgravity would be problematic but not impossible if you had some completely enclosed fryer that didn't let oil drops escape.

Amnon I. Govrin said...

Yes, there are electrical Menorahs (we had two in our front window this year).
A dreidel needs to be physical. Computer simulations? Astronauts do that enough before going to space :-)