Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Astronaut's Diary Containing Sabbath Prayer On Display

Yahoo News is running an AP story about the public display of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon's diary. Ramon and his fellow astronauts died in the shuttle Columbia's Feb 1, 2003, re-entry disaster and his diary was one of the few recognizable artifacts retrieved from the scattered wreckage.

The display of the diary is of interest to the Iconic Books project for the religious dimension foregrounded in the article. The survival of 37 pages of the diary through the explosion, 37-mile fall, and exposure to the elements is described as "miraculous" and the displayed contents include the Sabbath Kiddush prayer, and the reader might be reminded of the fortitude so often attributed to religious texts.

A little over two months after the shuttle explosion, NASA searchers found 37 pages from Ramon's diary, wet and crumpled, in a field just outside the U.S. town of Palestine, Texas. The diary survived extreme heat in the explosion, extreme atmospheric cold, and then "was attacked by microorganisms and insects" in the field where it fell, said museum curator Yigal Zalmona.

"It's almost a miracle that it survived - it's incredible," Zalmona said. There is "no rational explanation" for how it was recovered when most of the shuttle was not, he said.

[. . .]

Two pages will be displayed. One contains notes written by Ramon, and the other is a copy of the Kiddush prayer, a blessing over wine that Jews recite on the Sabbath. Zalmona said Ramon copied the prayer into his diary so he could recite it on the space shuttle and have the blessing broadcast to Earth.
The diary shares the display with a number of other iconic texts, each with its own place in history.

The diary is being displayed as part of a larger exhibit of famous documents from Israel's history, held to mark the country's 60th anniversary this year. Also on display will be Israel's 1948 declaration of independence, the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan and a bloodstained sheet of paper with lyrics to a peace anthem that was carried by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the time of his assassination in 1995.

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