Ilan Ramon: Israel’s First Astronaut

Ilan Ramon (June 20, 1954-February 1, 2003) was a groundbreaking pilot and will be forever known in history as the State of Israel’s first astronaut.

The mission that gave Ilan Ramon this unique title was as an expert on the Columbia Space Shuttle team on NASA’s STS-107.

Ilan started his service in the Israeli Air Force in August 1972. He first stated the pilot course, and two years later he completed his pilot training course as an outstanding trainee. In 1980, Ilan Ramon made his first breakthrough. He was one of the first pilots to travel to the United States to learn how to fly the F-16, in addition to receiving it in the Israel Air Force. Another significant operation in which he took part was the bombing of the reactor that had begun to build in Iraq in June 1981. Ilan was then the youngest of the pilots.



During his service, Ramon gained an impressive number of flying hours on four different planes: more than 4,000 hours flying on Skyhawks, Nesher, Phantom and F16. In 1997, Ramon was chosen by the Israeli Space Agency to be the first Israeli spaceflight pilot, under the guidance of NASA, and in his role as STS-107 on the shuttle, Ramon participated in the operation of the Israeli dust experiment, designed at Tel Aviv University to investigate the impact of dust storms on the Middle East, as well as other disciplines in biology and physics.

After more than a year of intensive training, the Columbia Space Shuttle was launched on 16 January 2003 for a 16-day mission. The end of the mission was remembered as the most tragic date. On February 1, 2003, on the way back to the Space Shuttle, it disintegrated as it crossed out of the Earth’s atmosphere. The incident caused the death of Ilan Ramon and all six of his fellow astronauts.

The body of Ilan Ramon was brought to Israel five days after the disaster. With the arrival of the coffin, a state ceremony was held at the air base near Ben-Gurion Airport in the presence of the family, headed by the President of Israel, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and NASA representatives.

On February 11, Ilan Ramon was buried in Nahalal at a military ceremony. After his death, Ramon was awarded the IDF’s Chief of Staff’s Medal of Honor and the Space Medal of Honor of the Congress. In honor of his significant activities, streets, schools and space centers bearing Ilan Ramon’s name exist in Israel and around the world.