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Israel’s First Astronaut: A Tale of Tragedy and Miracle

The unforgettable legacy of a national icon and his son.

by
P. David Hornik

Bio

June 30, 2013 - 7:00 am
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It’s been ten years and a few months since the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. After two weeks of orbiting the earth at an altitude of hundreds of miles, on February 1, 2003, the Columbia disintegrated while reentering the atmosphere with all of 16 minutes left to the flight. All seven crew members were killed, their remains eventually found in the East Texas county of Sabine.

One of the crew members was Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut. For Israelis the event was particularly devastating. It came while the Second Intifada—a five-year onslaught of suicide bombings and other terror attacks—was in force. The images of Ramon’s airborne journey were universally felt to be somehow redemptive, a reminder of our great achievements and great potentials during the pain and grief of those years.

Like millions of other Israelis, I and my son were watching TV, awaiting the Columbia’s triumphant return, when the incredible news started to filter in—slowly and cautiously at first, still leaving hope that things would somehow be OK. When it became clear that what was feared and implied was what had actually happened, that Ilan Ramon and the others were all dead, a few million people already suffering the psychological corrosions of an “intifada” were left dumbstruck and bewildered.

But it wasn’t all. Six years later, on September 13, 2009, Asaf Ramon—son of Ilan and Rona, oldest of four children—died in a rare training accident as a pilot in the Israeli air force. Twenty-one at the time, Asaf’s ambition was to be a great fighter pilot—as his father, Ilan Ramon, had been before becoming an astronaut.

While there is no point trying to “make sense” of such a story, it has many other striking aspects that are worth telling.

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All Comments   (7)
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Thank you for this essay, for allowing us to feel the wonder and beauty of flight while sitting at a desk. As a pilot I would like to humbly point out, there is no such thing as a routine training mission.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I recall listening anxiously to FM radio for the shuttle re-entry report (I was following the story of Ramon)...And the first reports that something was amiss came from Hawaii. It was so shocking, so horrific, so sudden, I didn't want to believe it.
Thank you for this article (and for the author noting all the strange, if not miraculous, coincidences).
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Inspirational. Thank you for this article.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Beautiful piece; thanks.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Thanks to you!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"even the United States, then led by the Reagan administration that was generally (but not necessarily) friendly toward Israel, voted along with the Security Council to condemn the operation. The U.S. also penalized Israel by delaying a shipment of aircraft, and by withholding vital intelligence information for years."

Reagan indeed deferred to the almost wall-to-wall insistence by his advisors that Israel be sanctioned, but he could hardly conceal his admiration for Israel's success. In Roger Claire's "Raid on the Sun" he describes Reagan reviewing satellite images of the aftermath. "Okay, yeah, yeah, I see," the president said, referring to the putatively damning evidence of Israel's perfidy, "But what a terrific piece of bombing." (p. 221)

Clair also notes that "By September 1, 1981, the sale of F-16s to Israel was quietly resumed", though restrictions on access to KH-11 surveillance satellites, originally imposed by Carter, were "firmly back in place". And how did Israel originally get hold of those F-16s? They were intended for the Shah's Iran, but after the Islamic Revolution the sale was cancelled, and the US found a willing buyer in Israel. (Note that Obama chose *not* to cancel a more recent sale of F-16s to now Muslim Brotherhood-run Egypt.)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Reagan's Admin shows that no matter how pro-Israel a President might be at heart, there are always conflicting impulses. The Kissinger types refer to these as 'strategic interests'; they have afflicted (I like that word here) similar Admins (Bush's/was there another?). I think that, even with a President like Bush who had affinities for Israel, there is also this belief that Israel should clear even vital actions first with Washington. So it was reported recently that Bush was furious with Olmert for Syria reactor strike...if that is true or not, I don't know. Then you have Obama (okay, you can keep him)..
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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