An Israeli in Space

Stand for Israel  |  January 30, 2023

Ilan Ramon - Israeli fighter pilot and astronaut
(Photo: NASA)

Twenty years ago, on February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon reentering earth’s atmosphere. Of the seven brave astronauts aboard, one of them—Ilan Ramon—was not just the first Israeli in space, but a Holy Land hero and Israeli You Should Know.

Born and raised Ilan Wolferman, the son of Jewish Holocaust survivors from Europe, Ilan Ramon grew up in the Holy Land, Israeli through and through. Joining the Israeli Air Force (IAF) as a fighter pilot, Wolferman changed his last name to the “Israeli-sounding” Ramon, a custom of Israeli pilots at the time.

IAF pilots from Operation Opera
(Photo: IDF)

Armed with a degree in electronics and computer engineering and a love for his homeland, Ramon excelled as an IAF pilot. One of the first F-16 pilots in Israel, Ramon also flew as the youngest member of Operation Opera, Israel’s strike on Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor. Ramon logged over 3,000 hours in fighter jets, including more than 1,000 in his beloved F-16.

From Operation Opera to Earth Orbit

But in 1997, Ilan Ramon the Israeli headed to Israel’s greatest ally, America, for an international and interstellar adventure. Selected as a NASA astronaut, Ramon trained in the U.S. until 2003 when he flew into space aboard the space shuttle Columbia. While in orbit, Ramon practiced Jewish observances, saying, “I feel I am representing all Jews and all Israelis.”

Crew of Spae Shuttle Columbia (Ilan Ramon on far right)
(Photo: NASA)

The Columbia’s mission lasted 16 days, but ended tragically when the space shuttle broke apart upon reentry on February 1, 2003, killing all astronauts aboard. Ilan Ramon was buried in his beloved hometown of the moshav of Nahalal. Also recovered from the wreckage was Ramon’s diary, which was returned to his wife. It included these words, from an Israeli hero of the heavens:

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.

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