Israel’s president hosts Columbia mission families: ‘They flew to the heavens’

The invitation to the families of the Columbia crew was extended by Ilan Ramon’s widow, who died last month from an illness.

By David Jablinowitz, World Israel News

President Reuven Rivlin and his wife Nechama met Sunday with the seven families of the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia mission which, on February 1, 2003, disintegrated upon re-entering earth’s atmosphere, killing all the crew members, including Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon.

The families are visiting Israel at the invitation of Rona Ramon, Ilan’s widow, who died in December from an illness.

In extending the invitation, she said that she had wanted the families to participate in Israeli Space Week and to attend a memorial ceremony for Ilan. Following Rona’s death, the president and his wife acceded to the request of Ilan and Rona’s children to host this event at the Presidential Residence in Jerusalem.

Before the gathering, Tal, Yiftach, and Noa Ramon met privately with the Rivlins in the president’s study. Another sibling, Assaf Ramon, was killed in an Israel Air Force fighter jet crash during an advanced pilot training course in 2009.

The families of the Columbia space shuttle presented the president with a picture taken at the training compound in 2002, several months before the disaster. It shows the space suits of the American astronauts hanging with U.S. flags on the sleeves, and the Israeli flag on the sleeve of Ilan Ramon’s suit.

Columbia was NASA’s first space shuttle. It carried out 28 missions and flew 160 astronauts.

Space Week was the initiative of Rona Ramon and includes conferences for researchers and educational events for over 100,000 children.

Proud of the Ramon Foundation

Evelyn Husband-Thompson, the wife of the commander of the Columbia mission Rick Husband, thanked the president, saying: “We are all so proud of you, and proud of the Ramon Foundation. It is difficult and emotional, but we also look forward to the future. On behalf of all the families, we are so happy to be here.”

“I want to welcome you all here – not as guests but as family,” said the president. “When we think of the seven crew members of the Columbia, we feel deep grief, but also boundless pride. They flew to the heavens to push the boundaries of human knowledge.

“Every Israeli knows where they were 16 years ago when they heard the terrible news. The stories of the brave astronauts on the space shuttle have become part of the story of the State of Israel,” Rivlin added.

“Only a month ago, we said good-bye to Rona Ramon. Rona honored the memory of her husband and her son through the Ramon Foundation, which gives young people from all backgrounds the opportunity to make their dreams come true. That is what I believe Israeli Space Week represents – inspiration for the next generation, for all of us, not just to explore the mysteries of space, but to build a better world here on earth,” he said.