Ilan Ramon

Ilan Ramon (June 20, 1954 - February 1, 2003; Hebrew: אילן רמון‎, born Ilan Wolferman[1]) was a fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force, and later the first Israeli astronaut. Ramon was the space shuttle payload specialist of STS-107, the fatal mission of Columbia, where he and six other crew members were killed in the re-entry accident. Ilan Ramon is the only foreign recipient of the United States Congressional Space Medal of Honor.


Personal life

Ramon was born in Ramat Gan, Israel, and grew up in Beersheba. His mother and grandmother were survivors of the Auschwitz concentration camp.[2] His first name, Ilan means "tree" in Hebrew,[3] Ilan changed his last name from Wolferman when he joined the IAF just as many other Israeli aviators.

Although considered a secular Jew, Ramon reportedly sought to follow Jewish observances while in orbit. In an interview he said, "I feel I am representing all Jews and all Israelis." He was the first spaceflight participant to request kosher food. He reportedly sought advice from a Chabad Lubavitch rabbi, Zvi Konikov, about how to observe the Jewish Sabbath in space, as the period between sunrises in orbit is approximately 90 minutes. This was referenced by the words "Jerusalem we have a problem" in Rabbi Konikov's speech at the Kennedy Space Center Memorial for Columbia on February 7, 2003.[4]

Aboard STS-107, Ramon carried a pencil sketch, "Moon Landscape", drawn by 16-year-old Petr Ginz, who died in Auschwitz. Ramon also took with him a microfiche copy of the Torah (from the Holocaust) given to him by Israeli president Moshe Katsav. Ramon asked the 1939 Club, a Holocaust survivor organization in Los Angeles, for a symbol of the Holocaust to take into outer space with him. A barbed wire mezuzah by the San Francisco artist Aimee Golant was selected. Ramon also took with him a dollar of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.[5] Ramon and the rest of the Columbia crew died over East Texas in the Southern United States during entry into Earth's atmosphere, 16 minutes prior to scheduled landing. [6]

"Miracle" diary

37 pages from the diary he was keeping while in orbit survived the crash and were returned to his widow, Rona, who has shared an excerpt with the Israeli public in a display at Jerusalem's Israel Museum.[7] Rona Ramon brought it to Israel Museum forensic experts. Only 2 pages were displayed, 1 containing Ramon's notes, and the other is a copy of the Kiddush prayer.[8] Curator Yigal Zalmona[9] said the diary was partially restored in 1 year, and needed 4 more, for police scientists to decipher 80% of the text. Zalmona stated: "The diary survived extreme heat in the explosion, extreme atmospheric cold, and then "was attacked by microorganisms and insects. It's almost a miracle that it survived — it's incredible. There is 'no rational explanation' for how it was recovered when most of the shuttle was not, he said."[10] Ramon wrote on the last day of the journal: {| style="margin:auto; border-collapse:collapse; border-style:none; background-color:transparent; width:auto; " class="cquote" | width="20" valign="top" style="color:#B2B7F2;font-size:35px;font-family:'Times New Roman',serif;font-weight:bold;text-align:left;padding:10px 10px;" | “ | valign="top" style="padding:4px 10px;" | "Today was the first day that I felt that I am truly living in space. I have become a man who lives and works in space." | width="20" valign="bottom" style="color:#B2B7F2;font-size:35px;font-family:'Times New Roman',serif;font-weight:bold;text-align:right;padding:10px 10px;" | ” |-

|} Inscribed in black ink and pencil, it covered just the first six days of the 16-day mission. The papers remained white even though, exposed at high speed 37 miles above the Earth, they should have super-heated and burned.[11] Other fragile items withstood the disaster as well, some even in a better shape, like a Caenorhabditis elegans worm culture,[12][13][14] the only survivors of the accident are a damaged hard disk drive.[15][16] This is a common occurrence in the debris trail of air disasters, where certain parts or objects in the aircraft are blown out of the vehicle and fall freely; when the Columbia disintegrated, she was already an aircraft (if exceptionally high and fast still) rather than a spacecraft.


Ramon graduated from high school in 1972. In 1987, he graduated with a B.Sc. degree in electronics and computer engineering from Tel Aviv University.[6]

Air Force career

Ilan Ramon was a Colonel (Aluf Mishne) and fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force, with thousands of hours flying experience. In 1974, he graduated as a fighter pilot from the Israel Air Force (IAF) Flight School. From 1974–1976 he participated in A-4 Basic Training and Operations. 1976–1980 was spent in Mirage III-C training and operations. In 1980, as one of the IAF's establishment team of the first F-16 Squadron in Israel, he attended the F-16 Training Course at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. From 1981–1983, he served as the Deputy Squadron Commander B, F-16 Squadron.[6]

In 1981 he was the youngest pilot taking part in Operation Opera, an Israeli military operation to bomb Iraq's unfinished Osiraq nuclear reactor. The facility was destroyed, killing ten Iraqi soldiers and one French researcher.[17][18]

After attending the Tel Aviv University, he served as Deputy Squadron Commander A, F-4 Phantom Squadron (1988–1990). During 1990, he attended the Squadron Commanders Course. From 1990–1992, he served as Squadron Commander, F-16 Squadron. From 1992–1994, he was Head of the Aircraft Branch in the Operations Requirement Department. In 1994, he was promoted to the rank of Colonel and assigned as Head of the Department of Operational Requirement for Weapon Development and Acquisition. He stayed at this post until 1998. Ramon accumulated over 3,000 flight hours on the A-4, Mirage III-C, and F-4, and over 1,000 flight hours on the F-16.[19]

NASA experience

NASA on-ground trainings

In 1997, Ramon was selected as a Payload Specialist. He was designated to train as prime for a space shuttle mission with a payload that included a multispectral camera for recording desert aerosol (dust). In July 1998, he reported for training at the Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, where he trained until 2003. He flew aboard STS-107, logging 15 days, 22 hours and 20 minutes in space.

Space flight

STS-107 Columbia (January 16 - February 1, 2003). The 16-day flight was a dedicated science and research mission. Working 24 hours a day, in two alternating shifts, crew successfully conducted approximately 80 experiments. The STS-107 mission ended abruptly when Space Shuttle Columbia was destroyed and its crew perished during re-entry, 16 minutes before scheduled landing.


Ramon was survived by his wife Rona and their four children, who were in Texas at the time of the accident. His eldest son, Captain Asaf Ramon, perished on September 13, 2009, aged 21, during a routine training flight while piloting his F-16A, 3 months after graduating from the IAF flight school with the Sword of Honor as the top cadet in his graduating class.[20] [21]

Awards and honors

Legacies (in Israel unless specified otherwise)

See also


  2. Haaretz Web site
  3. Behind the Name website
  4. official website
  5. Israeli astronaut busy up in space
  6. a b c Payload Specialist Astronaut Bio: Ilan Ramon, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Retrieved 2009-12-05
  7. Ohm, Shawna (2008-10-03). . Associate Press. Retrieved 2008-10-04.  [dead link]
  8. Ibid.
  9. Photos of "miracle" diary here
  10. Astronaut's diary goes on display in Jerusalem
  11. The Guardian report of the diary that survived shuttle blast
  12. Szewczyk, Nathaniel, et al. (2005). . Mary Ann Liebert, Astrobiology. Retrieved November 2, 2006. 
  13. . BBC News. 2003-05-01. Retrieved 2005-12-16. 
  14. Worms Survive Shuttle Disaster Fall 2003
  15. Fonseca, Brian (2008-05-07). . Retrieved 2009-09-01. 
  16. . Retrieved 2009-09-01. 
  17. Astronaut Ilan Ramon's son dies in IAF crash,, September 13, 2009
  18. . BBC News. June 5, 2006. Retrieved May 5, 2010. 
  19. Ibid.
  20. Jet crash kills Israel hero's son
  21. Death of Ilan Ramon's son, Asaf Ramon (hebrew)
  22. . NASA. April 28, 2006. Retrieved 2009-12-05. 
  23. "New Timna airport to be named after Ilan and Assaf Ramon"
  24. "Florida Tech dedicates dorms to Columbia 7"
  25. Ilan Ramon Junior High, Kochav-Yair
  26. UJA Foundation: Lag B'omer festival
  27. UJA Foundation