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EDITIONS
 Friday, 17 January, 2003, 00:00 GMT
First Israeli blasts into space
Israeli men watch the launch from the Kennedy Space center
The launch dominated TV and newspaper headlines
Israelis are avidly watching the progress of their first ever astronaut, who is in space after the successful launch of the Columbia shuttle on Thursday.

The most calm and relaxed person is Ilan

Rona Ramon, wife of Israeli astronaut
Colonel Ilan Ramon, an Israeli fighter pilot, blasted off with six other crew members on a mission which is to undertake a series of scientific experiments.

Extra security measures, including a large security cordon, sniffer dogs and swat teams, were brought in as Colonel Ramon's presence, along with a delegation of 300 Israeli officials, heightened security fears.

The mission is carrying a special pressurised laboratory into space for 16 days of experiments, principally on microgravity.

Israeli excitement

The launch - broadcast live by Israeli TV and radio stations - has caused great excitement around the country.

ISRAEL'S FIRST ASTRONAUT
Ilan Ramon
Fought in 1973 Arab-Israeli War
Makes Israel 30th nation in space
Son of Holocaust survivor
Questions over space Sabbath

"We had deep, beautiful, blue skies and then with this smoke coming in huge bursts, it was very, very moving," said the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Danny Ayalon.

"You know, these are our national colours."

Every Israeli school child will now be required to spend 25 hours of classroom time studying Colonel Ramon's flight and also space science.

The ambassador said Colonel Ramon - whose mother was a survivor of the Nazi death camps at Auschwitz - took with him a drawing by a 14-year-old Jewish boy who perished there.

"In two generations, we're moving from the lowest ebb, the darkest point of our history, to a very great moment of excellence and achievement," Mr Ayalon said.

Kosher food

Although Colonel Ramon is not particularly religious, as the first representative of the Jewish state in space, he said he would carry a Bible and eat only Kosher food.

Kennedy Space Center SWAT team members stand guard
Extra security measures were brought in
His desire to keep the Sabbath on Saturday was a potential problem as the sun sets and rises several times a day in space.

However, a Florida rabbi ruled he should adhere to the same time as Houston, where Nasa Mission Control is based.

"This is such an exciting time for us... he makes us so proud," Mr Ayalon said.

Colonel Ramon's wife and children were among those present for the launch.

Mrs Ramon admitted to some nervousness and said she could not wait for the mission to be over, the Associated Press reported.

"I don't want to talk about fear. We're not talking about fear. I'm sure Nasa is doing everything that is possible not to take any risk and any chances," she said.

"The most calm and relaxed person is Ilan."

Extensive testing

Weather conditions were near perfect for the launch of flight STS-107, with a clear, cool morning.

Spacehab, Nasa
The shuttle's lab will test microgravity
The mission is dedicated purely to scientific experimentation as the shuttle will not be ferrying any parts to the growing International Space Station (ISS).

The crew of seven will work in shifts for 24 hours each day to complete an extensive programme of tests.

However, the mission could be of great benefit to the ISS, as it will test a new technology which could enable the permanent recycling of water there.

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  The BBC's Claire Doole
"His flight into space is highly symbolic for the Jewish people"
International Space Station

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16 Jan 03 | Middle East
21 Dec 02 | Health
12 Nov 02 | Science/Nature
22 Nov 02 | Business
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