“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.” – Excerpt from Ramon’s on-board diary.
Col. Ilan Ramon was a decorated and highly honored Israel Air Force Colonel and fighter pilot boasting thousands of hours of flight experience. Graduating from Flight School in 1974, he continued to excel in numerous missions including the famous 1981 Operation Opera, Israel’s strike against Iraq’s unfinished Osiraq nuclear reactor. Ramon was the youngest pilot to take part in the attack.
In 1997, Ramon became Israel’s first astronaut and was selected to be the only Payload Specialist during NASA Mission STS-107 aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia. He spent 15 days, 22 hours and 20 minutes in space conducting more than 80 experiments with his six crewmates. Upon re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere over Texas air space, the infamous Columbia shuttle exploded tragically on February 1, 2003 just 16 minutes before its scheduled landing time.
Of the debris that fell to Earth, mostly around Texas and Louisiana, a “miracle” diary, as is popularly denoted, written by Ilan Ramon was discovered almost completely intact and legible. The diary was given to his widow, Rona Ramon, who donated two pages of the diary to the Israel Museum. Museum curator, Yigal Zalmona said “The diary survived extreme heat in the explosion and extreme atmospheric cold. It’s almost a miracle that it survived.”
Ramon was survived by his wife and four children. His eldest son, Captain Assaf Ramon, died on September 13, 2009, aged 21, during a routine training flight while piloting his F-16A, three months after graduating from the IAF flight school as the top cadet in his class.
Buried in Nahalal in northern Israel, both Ilan and his son Assaf’s namesakes are memorialized throughout Israel, North America and even the galaxy. Ilan posthumously received the Congessional Space Medal of Honor– the only non-US citizen as of yet to do so.