When Israel Air Force Colonel Ilan Ramon was asked what it was like to be selected as the first Israeli astronaut, he said that he feels like he is a representative of his home country.
“… I think it’s very, very peculiar to be the first Israeli up in space,” he said. “Especially because of my background. But my background is kind of a symbol of a lot of other Israelis’ background. My mother is a Holocaust survivor. She was in Auschwitz. My father fought for the independence of Israel not so long ago. I was born in Israel and I’m kind of the proof for them, and for the whole Israeli people, that whatever we fought for and we’ve been going through in the last century — or maybe in the last two thousand years — is becoming true.
“And I was talking to a lot of, for instance, Holocaust survivors. And when you talk to these people who are pretty old today, and you tell them that you’re going to be in space as an Israeli astronaut, they look at you as a dream that they could have never dreamed of. So, it’s very exciting for me to be able to fulfill their dream that they wouldn’t dare to dream. So, it is very exciting. Very exciting.”
Ramon was born in Tel Aviv, Israel, in June 1954. He graduated from high school in 1972. He then joined the Israel Air Force. He fought in the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and graduated as a fighter pilot from the Israel Air Force Flight School in 1974.
Over the next nine years, he gained experience in flying the A-4, F-16 and Mirage III-C aircraft, which included time training at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. Then, he attended the University of Tel Aviv from 1983 to 1987, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in electronics and computer engineering.
He then returned to flying for the air force. Ramon compiled more than 4,000 flight hours in Israeli military aircraft.
In 1997 he was selected to be an astronaut, and he reported to Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, in 1998. He said that he and most Israelis never dreamed of becoming astronauts.
“Well, when I was a kid,” Ramon said, “… most of the people wouldn’t dream of being an astronaut because it wasn’t on the agenda. So I never thought I would’ve been an astronaut. I’m a pilot, a fighter pilot, in my background. And I love to fly! Flying aircrafts, fighter aircraft, is great. And I was very happy. I’ve never dreamed to be an astronaut. When I was selected, I really jumped almost to space.”
While in orbit, he talked about the view of planet Earth and the need to take care of it. “The world looks marvelous from up here, so peaceful, so wonderful and so fragile,” Ramon said. “The atmosphere is so thin and fragile, and I think all of us have to keep it clean and good. It saves our life and gives our life.”.
According to Astronaut Office Chief Kent Rominger, Ramon was a caring person and enjoyed his time in space and working with his crewmates. “He was also extremely caring,” Rominger said. “From orbit, he sent an e-mail encouraging management, me and the other folks to immediately reassign this crew; that he could not imagine being part of or flying with any crew that was more deserving, more talented and more capable.”
“Ilan was a patriot, the devoted son of a Holocaust survivor, served his country in two wars. Ilan,” said his wife Rona, “left us at his peak moment, in his favorite place with people he loved.”