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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

PJ-Ramon-4a

During the decade and a half after Osirak, Ramon — in between studies for his degrees at Tel Aviv University — kept rising through the ranks of the Israeli air force, logging thousands of hours of flight time on A-4, Mirage III-C, F-4, and F-16 jets. In 1994 he was promoted to colonel and appointed head of weapons development and acquisition.

In 1997 he was chosen to be Israel’s first astronaut, and in July 1998 he began his training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

From January 16 to February 1, 2003, aboard the Columbia—whose crew carried out a total of 80 experiments—Ramon did experimental work with a multispectral camera for measuring small dust particles (or dust aerosols) over the Mediterranean and the Saharan coast of the Atlantic.

But Ramon saw the flight as something more than a triumph of technology and science. As he said in an interview: “I feel I am representing all Jews and all Israelis.” As he told the Israeli prime minister from the Columbia itself:

I think it is very, very important to preserve our historical tradition, and I mean historical and religious traditions.

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All Comments   (7)
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.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks 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).
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Inspirational. Thank you for this article.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Beautiful piece; thanks.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thanks to you!
39 weeks ago
39 weeks 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.)
41 weeks ago
41 weeks 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)..
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
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