The First Israeli in Space: Ilan Ramon
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Ilan Ramon was Israel’s first astronaut. He was mission specialist on the crew of the Space Shuttle, Columbia, launched into space on the 16th of January, 2003. The Columbia and all of her crew were lost in a fiery explosion while re-entering the earth’s atmosphere two weeks later, on February first, after 15 days, 22 hours and 20 minutes in space.
Ilan Ramon, z”l perished on February 1, 2003 with his crew friends during reentry of the Columbia shuttle, 16 minutes before scheduled landing. He was buried in Nahalal Cemetery in his homeland, Israel on February 11, 2003.
In 1981, IAF Col. Ilan Ramon flew one of the F-16 jets that blew up the Iraqi nuclear reactor in Osirak. In so doing he saved the country and perhaps the entire world from the specter of a nuclear holocaust.
Ilan Ramon was not simply a Jew. He was an Israeli Jew. And, as a scientist and fighter pilot his was the face of Israeli exceptionalism. Ramon excelled in all he did. He was first in his class in high school. He was first in his class in flight school. He was first in his class in astronaut training. In a break from the Air Force in the 1980s, after completing his studies in electrical engineering and computer science at Tel-Aviv University, Ramon joined the team at Israel Aircraft Industries that developed the Lavi fighter jet. On the Columbia, Ramon conducted environmental research on desertification.
“Being the first Israeli astronaut — I feel I am representing all Jews and all Israelis”
Ramon made clear at every opportunity that he went to outer space, not simply as a citizen of the State of Israel, but as a Jew.
He took with him into Outer space several symbols of his Jewish identity:a picture of the Earth as seen from the moon drawn by a Jewish boy in Theresienstadt concentration camp, a torah scroll from Bergen Belsen, a microfiche copy of the bible, the national flag and a prayer book.
As the representative of the Jewish people he recited kiddush over wine on Friday night. As a Jew he said Shema Yisrael as the space shuttle orbited over Jerusalem. As a Jew he insisted on eating only kosher food in outer space.
And as a Jew he told the Prime Minister from his celestial perch,
“I think it is very, very important to preserve our historical tradition, and I mean historical and religious traditions.”
Ilan Ramon (1954-2003), the first Israeli astronaut
Born on June 20, 1954, Ramat-Gan, Israel (Parents, Eliezer and Tova Wolferman reside in Beer-Sheva).
Died on February 1, 2003 during reentry of the Columbia Shuttle into the atmosphere.
Survived by wife Rona, and four children, Assaf, Tal, Yiftah and Noa.
Tags: astronaut, Columbia, Ilan Ramon, israel, israeli
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