Colonel Ilan Ramon, Israeli Pioneer in Space
By Lieutenant-Colonel Shlomo Nir

Feb. 2003

With the disaster of the space shuttle Columbia, it is as if a wing of the American eagle had broken and fell. Part of that broken wing is Israeli.

"I lost my daddy," cried Noa, Ilan's six year-old daughter, as the shuttle took off so perfectly- did she know something others didn't?

How symbolic is this disaster, where both the Israeli and his American comrades find a common fate- while Americans prepare for a war against Iraq, meant to destroy the threat to humanity in general, and to Israel in particular?

It seems that just as we stand now hand in hand in joined hearts with the American people, so we will stand together in the coming weeks and months in the forthcoming attack on the Iraqi regime in Baghdad.

Ilan Ramon, forty-eight years old at the time of his death, was son to holocaust survivors. He was excelled throughout his life, an excellent student in school, especially in physics and mathematics. In 1972, like every Israeli young man, he joined the Israeli Defense Force. After two years he graduated the flying course as a distinguished student and continued serving as a fighter pilot with the same level of excellence. In 1981, he was the youngest pilot to participate in the attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor.

Ilan loved to fly and he loved his family. In his last e-mail from space to his wife and four children, he wrote: "Although everything here is amazing, I cannot wait until I see you again. A big hug to you, and kisses to the children." To his brother he wrote: "I wish I could continue flying for the rest of my life." In an interview from space he said: "I hope we will land on time, because I miss my beloved and my children who are waiting for me down there."

In an e-mail sent one day prior to the expected landing, Ilan wrote to the I.A.F. commander: "It is a great privilege to be a member of the Air Force family. I feel I am opening up a new horizon and pave a new way. Air and space are in one continuity, and we are already here, in space."

"These words are Ilan's way of asking the I.A.F to pursue this path of vision and innovation…" said the Israeli Air Force Commander, "and whoever does not follow this road will regress. Therefore, it is our duty to pursue Ilan's path, develop the field of space and bring it to fulfillment."

In spite of this great loss, the sorrow and pain we all feel in Israel, Ilan's road is already paved. He will be remembered as a fighter, a hero, a professional, a pioneer, and above all as a modest person, a good friend with admirable qualities and values. He will be a source of inspiration to the next generation.