On February 1, 2003, Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, and his six crewmates on Columbia were tragically killed when their shuttle exploded upon re-entry. NASA held a memorial ceremony for the fallen astronauts last week.

Columbia crew members

Columbia crew members Photo Credit: NASA

Fifteen years ago today, Space Shuttle Columbia exploded as it re-entered the atmosphere after completing a 16-day mission. Aboard the spacecraft were seven crew members, including Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon.

NASA honored the seven astronauts who lost their lives on February 1, 2003, last week at a ceremony during which Tal Ramon, son of the Israeli astronaut, performed a special musical tribute. Hundreds of people, including the family and friends of other fallen astronauts over the years, attended the ceremony at Kennedy Space Center.

Ramon, who is a singer and songwriter, performed two of his original songs in Hebrew. “I’m just so emotional to be here with you,” Ramon told those attending the ceremony before his performance.

The late Ramon was born in Ramat Gan in 1954. Both his parents were Holocaust survivors who had spent time in Auschwitz. Ramon was a fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force and the youngest pilot to participate in Operation Opera, the 1981 Israeli strike on the Iraqi nuclear reactor.  

At the time of the Columbia accident, Ramon’s wife, Rona, and their four children were waiting for him at the Kennedy Space Center, where he was supposed to land with the rest of his crew. A few years later, in 2009, tragedy struck the Ramon family again when the couple’s eldest son, Assaf, was killed during a routine IAF training flight.

A year later, Rona founded the Ramon Foundation in memory of her husband and eldest son. The foundation’s mission statement states that it “aims to ignite the three essential values which Ilan and Asaf Ramon stood for – academic excellence, social leadership and groundbreaking courage.”

Columbia crew members (Ilan- front left) speaking via satellite communication with Israeli PM

Columbia crew members (Ilan- front left) speaking via satellite communication with Israeli PM Photo Credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO

Saying goodbye to Ilan Ramon

Saying goodbye to Ilan Ramon Photo Credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO