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Rabbi to Astronauts at Final Shuttle Launch

Among the estimated 1 million people who flocked to Florida’s Kennedy Space Center to witness the end of an era Friday was Rabbi Zvi Konikov, the director of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Space & Treasure Coasts who for years has served as a sort of informal Jewish community liaison to NASA and its astronauts.

Konikov was photographed by Getty Images’ Chip Somodevilla during his morning prayers in the press area outside NASA’s iconic Vehicle Assembly Building in the hours before the Space Shuttle Atlantis rocketed into orbit, the last such launch of the U.S. space shuttle program.

In recent years, Konikov, who provided kosher food to the Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon before his fatal 2003 flight aboard the stricken Columbia, has presided over Chasidic gatherings in honor of Jewish astronauts.

Atlantis, which launched just before 11:30 a.m., is making one last trip to the International Space Station before its retirement. The two other surviving shuttles are in the process of being decommissioned.