I have been very privileged in life to be standing on the shoulders of two giants, my grandfathers. I have been called after one of them, my maternal grandfather Alexander Bukstein. My firstborn son is called after the other, Moshe Kashlinsky.
I was born in Riga, then part of the Soviet Union. My interest in astronomy was triggered by an accidental reading of Stanislaw Lem’s “Magellanic cloud”. I distinctly remember the moment I picked up that book from the shelves; I think I was about 10 years of age then. Having read it, I decided to travel to stars, an undertaking I still hope to accomplish….
To me the right-and-wrong, black-and-white and good-vs-evil aspects of the nature of the Soviet regime (wrong, black and evil) have always been obvious and, at age 14, I got involved in the Zionist and dissident underground in the (former) USSR. As a result, I had many “encounters with” (read: arrests by) the notorious KGB. When I reached 18, I applied to leave the USSR for Israel. The Soviet authorities must have had quite enough of me by then and granted me permission in just one month on the condition that they never see me again. I made aliyah and arrived in Israel on October 1, 1976 with two suitcases. My parents stayed behind though, and – given the nature of the Soviet system – I could not see them for another almost 10 years.
In 1971 I passed the entrance exams into Riga’s 1st Physico-Mathematical School, which I recently learned was founded in 1211. These exams were the toughest I ever had to pass in life, so I am particularly proud of that. In 1973 I began my university studies in Physics at Riga’s State University. Following my aliyah in 1976, I finished my undergraduate and Master’s in Physics at Tel-Aviv University, and in October 1979 came to Cambridge University, England to do my PhD in Astrophysics. There I was an Isaac Newton Scholar at the Institute of Astronomy and a Christ’s College Scholar. I finished my PhD there in April 1983 working under the direction of Martin Rees. In May 1983, I went back to Israel to do my regular military service in the IDF. I graduated from the Army a little less than 2.5 years later (June 1985) with a proud rank of Private Alex (my Army commander insisted that I be called Alex, not Sasha – orders are orders…).
Since 1991 I have been working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center near Washington, DC, where my wife Natalie and I are raising two wonderful sons Moshe and David.