A Somber Anniversary: Ilan Ramon
Colonel Ilan Ramon was an Israeli Air Force combat pilot and the first Israeli astronaut to take part in a space mission, the fatal Space Shuttle Columbia mission launched on January 16, 2003.
Although Ramon described himself as a secular Jew, special kosher meals were made for his journey and he consulted with rabbis before leaving about the proper way to observe Shabbat from space.
Ramon carried several personal souvenirs with him into space. His wife gave him four poems and his father gave him photographs of the family. His 15-year-old son, Assaf, and Ramon's brother, Gadi, both gave him letters to be unsealed and read only after he was in orbit. Israel's president, Moshe Katsav, gave him a credit card-size microfiche copy of the Bible. He also took a pencil drawing titled "Moon Landscape" by a 14-year-old Jewish boy, Peter Ginz, who was killed at Auschwitz.
"Being the first Israeli astronaut - I feel I am representing all Jews and all Israelis," Ramon said. Referring to his mother and grandmother, who both survived imprisonment in Auschwitz, he added, "I'm the son of a Holocaust survivor - I carry on the suffering of the Holocaust generation, and I'm kind of proof that despite all the horror they went through, we're going forward."
Ramon was the space shuttle payload specialist of the fatal mission, in which he and six other crew members were killed in the re-entry accident. At 48, he was the oldest member of the crew. Ramon is the only foreign recipient of the United States Congressional Space Medal of Honor, which he was awarded posthumously.