Colonel Ilan Ramon, Israel Air Force (June 20, 1954 - February 1, 2003; born Ilan Wolferman), was an Israeli fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force and Israel’s first astronaut. Ilan and his wife Rona had 4 children. Their eldest son, Asaf, was killed in a pilot training accident in 2009.
Ramon was the a space shuttle payload specialist of STS-107, the fatal mission of Columbia, in which he and six other crew members were killed in the re-entry accident. Posthumously he was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the NASA Space Flight Medal, and the Distinguished Public Service Medal. Ilan is the only foreign recipient of the United States Congressional Space Medal of Honor.
Personal Life And Family
Ilan was born in Ramat Gan, Israel to Tonya (1929-2003) and Eliezer Wolferman (1923-2006). He grew up in Beer-Sheva. His father was born in Germany and fled Nazi persecution in 1935 with his family. His mother and grandmother were Auschwitz Holocaust survivors. They immigrated to Israel in 1949. His first name, Ilan, means tree in Hebrew. Ilan changed his last name from Wolferman when he joined the IAF as did many Israeli aviators. Ilan graduated from high school in Beer-Sheva in 1972. In 1987 he graduated with a B.Sc. degree in Electronics and Computer Engineering from Tel Aviv University.
Air Force Career
Ilan Ramon was a Colonel (Aluf Mishne) and fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force where he accumulated thousands of hours flying experience. In 1974 he graduated as a fighter pilot from the Israel Air Force (IAF) Flight School. From 1974-1976 he participated in A-4 Basic Training and Operations. 1976-1980 was spent in Mirage III-C training and operations. In 1980 as one of the IAF’s establishment team of the first F-16 Squadron in Israel, he attended the F-16 Training Course at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. From 1981-1983 he served as the Deputy Squadron Commander B, F-16 Squadron.
In 1981 he was the youngest pilot to participate in Operation Opera, Israel’s strike against Iraq’s unfinished Osiraq nuclear reactor. The facility was destroyed, killing ten Iraqi soldiers and one French researcher.
After attending Tel Aviv University Ilan served as Deputy Squadron Commander A, 119 Squadron, flying the F-4 Phantom (1988-1990). During 1990 he attended the Squadron Commanders Course and between 1990 and 1992 he commanded the117 Squadron, flying the F-16. From 1992-1994, he was Head of the Aircraft Branch in the Operations Requirement Department. In 1994, he was promoted to the rank of Colonel and assigned as Head of the Department of Operational Requirement for Weapon Development and Acquisition. He stayed at this post until 1998. Ramon accumulated over 3,000 flight hours on the A-4, Mirage III-C, and F-4, and over 1,000 flight hours on the F-16.
SPECIAL HONORS: Yom Kippur War (1973); Operation Peace for Galilee (1982); F-16 1,000 Flight Hours (1992).
Life in NASA
In 1997 Ilan Ramon was selected as a Payload Specialist. He was designated to train as prime for a space shuttle mission with a payload that included a multispectral camera for recording desert aerosol (dust). In July 1998 he reported for training at the Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, where he trained until 2003. He flew aboard STS-107, logging 15 days, 22 hours and 20 minutes in space.
STS-107 Columbia (January 16 – February 1, 2003). The 16-day flight was a dedicated science and research mission. Working 24 hours a day in two alternating shifts, crew successfully conducted approximately 80 experiments.
The STS-107 mission ended abruptly when Space Shuttle Columbia was destroyed and its crew perished during re-entry,16 minutes before scheduled landing.
Ilan Ramon was a representative of the Jewish People.
Although considered a secular Jew, Ramon reportedly sought to follow Jewish observances while in orbit. In an interview he said, “I feel I am representing all Jews and all Israelis.” He was the first spaceflight participant to request kosher food.
Aboard STS-107, Ramon carried a pencil sketch, Moon Landscape, drawn by 16-year-old Petr Ginz, who died in Auschwitz. Ramon also took with him a microfiche copy of the Torah given to him by Israeli president and a miniature Torah scroll (from the Holocaust) that was given him by Prof. Yehoyachin Yosef, a Bergen Belsen survivor. Ramon asked the 1939 Club, a Holocaust survivor organization in Los Angeles, for a symbol of the Holocaust to take into outer space with him. A barbed wire mezuzah by the San Francisco artist Aimee Golant was selected. Ramon also took with him a dollar of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.
Ilan Ramon – an inspiration
Ilan reached for the stars. He excelled throughout his life in everything from High school to the the Air Force and then to NASA. It is our hope that he will continue to inspire children all over the world to strive to do their best in everything they do.