On February 1, 2003, Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon was killed alongside the rest of his crew during the fatal Columbia Space Shuttle mission.
Born in 1954 in Ramat Gan to Holocaust survivor parents, Ramon completed the Israeli Air Force flight academy course with honors, graduated from Tel Aviv University with a degree in electronic engineering and computers and served the country first as a fighter pilot in the Israeli Air force all before earning the prestigious title of Israel's first astronaut.
In 1997, Ramon was selected by NASA to train for a space shuttle mission aboard the Columbia space shuttle orbiter, an opportunity that saw him move to Texas in order to spend the next five years training for the 16-day mission.
And so, on January 16, 2023, Ramon and the other six members of his crew set off for a 16-day mission dedicated to science and research.
Although secular, Ramon felt closely connected to both Judaism and Israel, and he both requested Kosher food and observed Shabbat while in space. "I feel I am representing all Jews and all Israelis" he commented at the time.
The items taken aboard the space shuttle by Ramon reflected his love of Judaism and his respect for Jewish history, as among the items was a drawing of a moon landscape created by 16-year-old Peter Ginz who had died in Auschwitz during the Holocaust.
He also took two miniature Torah scrolls with him, one given to him by former Israeli president Moshe Katsav, and a second one gifted to him by Prof. Yehoyachin Yosef, a Bergen Belsen survivor. He also took a dollar of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.
The Columbia Space Shuttle Disaster
After completing a successful 16 days in space, with the crew conducting over 80 experiments over the course of the mission, Columbia began its journey back to Earth.
However, an undiscovered breach in the shuttle's thermal protection system caused it to disintegrate the moment it hit the Earth's atmosphere, killing Ramon and the rest of his crew.
In addition to Ramon, the other six people to lose their lives that dat were Payload Commander Michael P. Anderson, Mission Specialists David M. Brown, Kalpana Chawla, and Laurel B. Clark, and Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon of the Israeli Space Agency, Commander Rick D. Husband and Pilot William C. “Willie” McCool.
The legacy left behind
Ramon was posthumously awarded a United States Congressional Space Medal of Honor, making him the only foreign recipient of the award to date.
Ramon left behind a wife, Rona, and four children.
In the two decades following his death, a number of institutions were set up in his name, including Ramon Airport (also named for his son, Asaf Ramon, who died in an IAF training exercise), the Ilan Ramon Youth Physics Center, and a number of elementary schools and high schools across the country.
A space-themed playground in Beersheba also bears his name, and further afield in space, the Ramon Crater in the Apollo Basin proudly carries his name, all the way across to the far side of the Moon.