Israeli Students Visit Kennedy to Honor Hometown Hero
As NASA paused on Feb. 1 to remember the astronauts who were lost on the space shuttle Columbia's STS-107 mission, students from the hometown of one of its crew members joined in the Day of Remembrance ceremonies at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Israeli Space Agency astronaut Ilan Ramon served as a payload specialist aboard Columbia with fellow crew members Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown and Laurel Clark who perished when the shuttle broke apart during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003.
Each year, junior and senior high school students from Be'er Sheva, Israel, make a trip to Kennedy to honor Ramon and draw inspiration from his efforts to explore.
"The students are very interested in Ramon's participation in the shuttle program," said Laura Colville, program manager for NASA's Educator Resource Center. "We also try to encourage them to stay in school and pursue higher educational opportunities. Educators in Israel, like America, encourage interest in STEM -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics."
Colville noted that the annual pilgrimage began a year after the Columbia accident.
"Since 2004, the scholars from Be'er Sheva have come to Kennedy so they can be here for the Columbia anniversary," she said. "This year there was a total of 44 students and three teachers from Makif Gimel High School, Ramon's alma mater, and Makif Aleph High School that made the trip."
During their visit, the students participated in several educational programs and heard from speakers such as state Sen. Thad Altman, president and chief executive officer of the Astronauts Memorial Foundation (AMF) and former NASA astronaut Jon McBride, chairman of the AMF board of directors.
McBride told of his experiences as a U.S. Navy aviator, which included spending almost two years in Israel. He also spoke about his mission as a pilot on the STS-41G shuttle mission in October 1984.
"As a result of his time in Israel, Jon learned to speak Hebrew and was able to talk with many of the students in their language," Colville said.
At the Day of Remembrance ceremony, the young people heard Evelyn Husband-Thompson, widow of STS-107 commander Rick Husband, honor Ramon.
"Ilan was a tremendously gifted pilot and a colonel in the Israeli Air Force," she said. "He humbly understood his unique place in history as Israel's first astronaut. He and his family blessed all of us (Columbia crew and families) by teaching us Jewish traditions."
Those traditions were not only rooted in the Bible, but also in the history of the modern state of Israel.
Ramon grew up in Be'er Sheva, a city of 185,000, with parents who were both victims of Nazi persecution. His father, Eliezer Wolferman, fled from Germany in 1935. Wolferman went on to fight in Israel's War of Independence between 1947 and 1949. Ramon's mother and grandmother were Holocaust survivors from Poland, having been in the Auschwitz concentration camp. They immigrated to Israel in 1949.
In addition to attending the Day of Remembrance ceremony and learning about Ramon, the students toured the Florida spaceport, seeing the Apollo-Saturn V facility, the Vehicle Assembly Building, Launch Pad 39A and the Shuttle Landing Facility.
Colville noted that out of the 24 names on the Space Mirror Memorial at Kennedy's Visitor Complex, Ramon's is the only astronaut from another country.
"It's appropriate that the students could participate in this observance," Colville said. "They exhibited a great deal of national pride. We were glad to share in it."
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center