By Joel Leyden
Israel News Agency / Jewish News Agency
Tel Aviv, Israel — February 2023 … The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and civilians of Israel remember the passing of Ilan Ramon, a former Israeli Air Force fighter pilot and the first Israeli astronaut. Ramon lost his life, along with six other crew members, during the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster on February 1, 2003.
Ilan Ramon’s life and legacy will always be remembered as an inspiration for future generations. He represented the strength and resilience of the Jewish people and will continue to be a source of pride for the State of Israel. The IDF and civilians of Israel extend their heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Ilan Ramon and the other crew members of the Space Shuttle Columbia.
Ramon’s pioneering spirit, bravery and dedication to his country will continue to be a source of inspiration for Israelis and people around the world. We honor his memory and the sacrifices he made for the pursuit of knowledge and the betterment of humanity.
IDF Captain Joel Leyden was working at the Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson’s Office and was called to the Situation Room. Leyden was asked by his commander to write a statement announcing Ramon’s death. He responded: “What do I say?” Leyden said: “I had bought candy to hand out to all staff members as we were monitoring his re-entry on several TV networks. We were all devastated as we witnessed the explosion. The radio silence between the Space Shuttle and Ground Control. There was no candy, only tears. He was one of us. He wore the uniform. But transcending all, he was a Jew who provided inspiration to the State of Israel and nations throughout the world. His was an act of peace that none of us will ever forget.”
Ilan was survived by his wife Rona and their four children (Assaf, Tal, Yiftah, and Noa), who were in Florida at the time of the accident.
Israel President Isaac Herzog attended the 18th Ilan Ramon International Space Conference this morning, held as part of Israel Space Week 2023.
Yesterday, the President met Eytan Stibbe and his fellow astronauts from the Ax-1 Mission to the International Space Station, the first-ever private mission to the ISS, which launched in April 2022. Astronauts Eytan Stibbe, Michael López-Alegría, Larry Connor, and Mark Pathy told the President about the Israeli space experiments they participated in, about their work together as a space crew, and about their personal experiences onboard the ISS.
The President asked the astronauts about their mission, training, and return to Planet Earth. Eytan Stibbe gave President Herzog back the glass cube that the President gave him to take to the International Space Station, inscribed with the Prayer to the State of Israel in the handwriting of its author, the President’s grandfather, Israel’s first chief rabbi, Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac HaLevi Herzog.
The President said this morning at the Ilan Ramon International Space Conference: “All of this seemingly infinite possibility isn’t only about reaching beyond ourselves to new planets. It is also about using our new capabilities to preserve and protect this fragile and beautiful planet we call home. In fact, when Ilan was aboard the Columbia spacecraft, he talked about how beautiful Planet Earth appears from all the way up in space, but also about how unspeakably fragile it is. Earth, he said, must be protected. And just as hundreds of kilometers above land borders disappear and are replaced by an intense awareness that we all share one Earth, I believe we must work together across borders and divides, to help make life on this planet better for everyone.”
The President said in summary: “The last great era of space exploration was driven by the competition of the Cold War. I believe that the new era of space exploration can be driven by the goodwill of our Warm Peace. Let us walk in the footsteps, or rather soar in the flight paths, of Ilan Ramon and his fellow astronauts, and move upward and onward, harnessing the power of space, for the promise of Earth. Together, we can take space exploration—and our capacity for human collaboration—to new heights and save our planet from new and terrifying depths.”
At the start of the conference, NASA Associate Administrator Robert D. Cabana and NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development James Free gave the President a special present: a patch from the Artemis-1 mission, which recently returned to Earth from its journey to lunar orbit.