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.