Ilan Ramon (COLONEL, ISRAEL AIR FORCE) (June 20, 1954 – February 1, 2003; born Ilan Wolferman) was an Israeli fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force, and later the first Israeli astronaut. Ilan and his wife Rona had 4 children. Their eldest son, Asaf, was killed in a 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 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.
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 his family fled Nazi persecution in 1935. His mother and grandmother were Holocaust Auschwitz 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 just as many other 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.
Ilan Ramon was a Colonel (Aluf Mishne) and fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force, with thousands of hours flying experience. In 1974, he graduated as a fighter pilot from the Israel Air Force (IAF) Flight School. From 1974–76 he participated in A-4 Basic Training and Operations. 1976–80 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 1981–83, he served as the Deputy Squadron Commander B, F-16 Squadron.
In 1981 he was the youngest pilot taking part 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 the Tel Aviv University, he served as Deputy Squadron Commander A, 119 Squadron, flying the F-4 Phantom (1988–90). During 1990, he attended the Squadron Commanders Course and between 1990 and 1992, commanded 117 Squadron, flying the F-16. From 1992–94, 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).
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 as 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 has reached for the stars. He excelled throughout his life in everything he had done, was it in High school, in the Air Force and in NASA. It is our hope that he will continue to in inspire children all over the world to strive to do their best in everything they do.