Remarks by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon about the Columbia Space Shuttle at the Cabinet Meeting

Jerusalem, 2 February 2003

Yesterday, at four o’clock in the afternoon, Israel time, communication was lost with the Space Shuttle Columbia. On board the Space Shuttle were seven astronauts, among them Col. Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut.

From the moment that we learned of the loss of contact, we followed, together with the rest of the citizens of the world, in trepidation, hope and prayer, the updates which reached us from the space agency until the bitter moment when there was no doubt that the seven astronauts were killed in the space shuttle explosion.

I wish to send from here, on behalf of the government and people of Israel, our sincere condolences to the families of the American astronauts, to the President of the United States, George Bush, and to the people of the United States. Times such as these strengthen the bonds of our common fate, values and vision, all of which were realized in Col. Ilan Ramon’s journey into space.

Unfortunately, I did not get to know Ilan as well as I would have wished. But I knew about his past as a bold fighter pilot and an outstanding commander.

I spoke to Ilan a number of times before he took off on his last mission, and I spoke to him while he was on board. In my conversations with Ilan, I recognized a man of values. A man who dearly loved his people and country. A man who did not deserve to be taken from us, along with our hopes, dreams, history and future, to a place beyond that which we could ever have imagined.

Last night I spoke with Ilan’s father, Eliezer and his wife, Rona. I am sure that you all join me in extending condolences to this wonderful family, a family of which we are all proud.

The seven astronauts who were killed yesterday in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, are part of the heavy price paid by the human race in its quest for knowledge, and in our search to explore other worlds.

Their deaths were not in vain. Man’s journey into space will continue. Cooperation between the United States and Israel in this field will also continue.

The day will come when we will launch more Israeli astronauts into space. I am sure that each and every one of them will carry in his heart the memory of Ilan Ramon, a pioneer in Israeli space travel.

All the people of Israel bow their heads in memory of Col. Ilan Ramon and the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia, heroes of manned space flight.