Israel Remembers Fallen Astronaut and War Hero Ilan Ramon

The fourth anniversary of the death of Israel's first (and only) astronaut, Ilan Ramon, is being marked by several events, including a unique obstacle course and race.

Nissan Ratzalav-Katz and Ezra HaLevi , | updated: 2:40 PM

February 1 marks the civil calendar anniversary of the explosion that tragically cut short the 2003 mission of the NASA Space Shuttle Columbia. The explosion, which occurred when the 16-day mission was coming to an end and the shuttle had reentered the atmosphere over the United States, killed all crew members aboard, including Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon.

Two of Ramon’s fellow astronauts have arrived in Israel to pay their respects and attend a private service at his grave.

The Acharai (After me!) youth movement held a three mile stretcher march in Ramon’s memory from Beit She’arim to the Nahalal cemetery where Ramon was buried.

Ramon’s life story will be told over, and parts performed by the youth. One of the most known operations Ramon took part in was the destruction of Iraq’s Osarik Nuclear Reactor.

Ramon was born June 20,1954, in Tel Aviv. In 1974, Ramon graduated as an IDF fighter pilot and went on to train, master and head squadrons of Mirage III-Cs, F-16s and F-4 Phantoms. He received a BSc in electronics and computer engineering from Tel Aviv University in 1987 and in 1992 he became head of the Aircraft Branch in the Operations Requirement Department and in 1994 he was promoted to the rank of Colonel and assigned to head the Department of Operational Requirement for Weapon Development and Acquisition, where he stayed until 1998.

Ramon served in the Yom Kippur War, Operation Peace for Galilee and the destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981. He was selected in 1997 by NASA to serve as a Payload Specialist on the Space Shuttle Columbia and reported for training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston in July 1998.

"Being the first Israeli astronaut - I feel I am representing all Jews and all Israelis," Ramon said. Referring to his mother and grandmother, who both survived imprisonment in Auschwitz, he added, "I'm the son of a Holocaust survivor - I carry on the suffering of the Holocaust generation, and I'm kind of proof that despite all the horror they went through, we're going forward."

Although Ramon described himself as secular he requested special kosher meals for his journey and consulted with rabbis before leaving about the proper manner in which to observe Shabbat from space.

He carried with him into space a drawing entitled "Moon Landscape," by a 14-year-old Jewish boy named Peter Ginz who was killed in Auschwitz, four poems from his wife, family photographs from his father and space-letters from his 15-year-old son Assaf and brother Gadi to read once in space. He also carried with him a small torah scroll rescued from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. President Moshe Katzav also gave Ramon a microfilm copy of the Torah to keep on him at all times during his journey.

Ramon left behind a wife, Rona, four children, and a Jewish nation, which he inspired.