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Saturday, 1 February, 2003, 16:33 GMT
Israeli astronaut carried nation's dreams
Colonel Ilan Ramon
Ilan Ramon became the first Israeli in space
When it was announced that Colonel Ilan Ramon would represent Israel on the US space shuttle mission, he gave a troubled country something to cheer about.

I know my flight is very symbolic for the people of Israel, especially the survivors, the Holocaust survivors, because I was born in Israel, many people will see this as a dream that is come true

Ilan Ramon
His personal history is intertwined with that of his nation.

The son of an Auschwitz survivor, Mr Ramon grew up to become a fighter pilot in the Israeli air force and fought in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.

When he blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Ramon became the first Israeli in space and made Israel the 30th nation to have a citizen fly in orbit.

His flight became a welcome distraction for Israelis from the ongoing violence in the Middle East and a source of national pride.

Religious artefacts

Ramon was not the first Jew in space; others who went before him include Judy Resnik, who was killed in the Challenger disaster in 1986.

Nor was Israel's first astronaut a strict practising Jew when on the ground.

But with the eyes of a nation upon him as he made this first symbolic flight, Ramon had been keen to play tribute to his religious heritage.

Drawing by Peter Ginz
Ramon took a picture drawn by a boy killed in Auschwitz

"As an Israeli and a Jew I asked Nasa if it would be possible to supply kosher food for my menu in space," Ramon said.

"I was surprised and overwhelmed with the effort Nasa put in to trying to accommodate my request," he added.

Among the few personal possessions he took with him on his 16-day voyage were mezuzahs - small cases that are hung on door frames of Jewish homes and contain inscriptions from the Bible.

He also took a book of Psalms which was given to him by Israel's President Moshe Katsav - the microfiche of the Bible is the size of a credit card.

Tribute to victims

But probably of greatest resonance is a picture drawn by a 14-year-old Jewish boy named Peter Ginz before he was killed in Auschwitz in 1944.

I was born in Israel and I'm kind of the proof for my parents and their generation that whatever we've been fighting for in the last century is becoming true

Ilan Ramon

Ramon's own mother Tonya Wolferman was a survivor of the Nazi death camp.

The pencil drawing, entitled Moon Landscape, shows a view of the earth from the surface of the moon, as imagined by the boy.

"I know my flight is very symbolic for the people of Israel, especially the survivors, the Holocaust survivors, because I was born in Israel, many people will see this as a dream that is come true," Ramon explained.

"I was born in Israel and I'm kind of the proof for my parents and their generation that whatever we've been fighting for in the last century is becoming true."


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01 Feb 03 | Americas
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