Reamrks by President Moshe Katsav at State Memorial Ceremony for Ilan Ramon
February 10, 2003

(Communicated by President’s Spokesman)

There were two major events, two missions that Col. Ilan Ramon carried out in his lifetime, in the name of the State of Israel – which held international importance and which held the world’s attention.

In 1981 Ilan participated in a courageous operation, in utmost secrecy, together with his air force comrades, in order to prevent a tragedy. The world, at that time, did not understand the gravity of the situation, and there were those who condemned this action.

Today, the tides have turned, and many have blessed the operation in Iraq. Had Ilan and his friends at that time not endangered their lives in this mission – with hindsight, it is obvious that a much greater danger would be hovering over Israel and other countries.

Approximately one month ago Ilan, together with his companions, took part in another courageous mission, in the space shuttle Columbia, this time in the name of humanity, in the name of progress.

These two events encompass Ilan Ramon’s personality – his pleasant nature, decisiveness, belief, courage, willingness to sacrifice himself, responsibility, striving for excellence, sense of mission, straightforwardness, and modesty. We were all captivated with his magic, and all admired him.

We sent one of our most perfect, the finest of our sons, on this mission. A whole nation followed the shuttle’s launch with excitement and pride.

After four and a half years of preparation and exercises, and another sixteen days of space travel, a complication occurred at the moment of re-entry to the earth’s atmosphere, in the last moments of the flight. Humanity held its breath, a whole nation was wrapped in sorrow and grief, and wept when the worst was confirmed.

In the days before take off, Ilan was noticeable in his wonderful personality, in his nobility and beauty. During the flight itself, he continued to add substance to his nobility and magic.

I planned to welcome him back, and tell him how proud everyone is of him as a person, as a Jew, as an Israeli, as an IDF commander and to thank him for his letter to me.

He brought, in the days leading up to the flight, and during the journey, in his special way a universal, humanitarian and national message.

This was also the case in the email he sent me, where he asked me to pass on the following message to the Israeli public. His words were those of vision and belief. I would like to read the following from his letter to me.

"Hello Mr. President,

It is my honour and pleasure to write this letter to you from space.

As you know, I took off into space ten days ago on the space shuttle Columbia, and with this I was fortunate enough to become the first Israeli in space.

For the last four and a half years I prepared for this mission and after a few setbacks we were successful. Many astronauts from NASA told me that it was worth the wait – and indeed it is impossible to describe the experience of being in space. Although we are working sixteen hours a day, we are enjoying every minute, and it is phenomenal.

This morning we flew above Israel, not for the first time, but this time was the best. I was able to clearly see Jerusalem and at that time, when I saw our capital I recited a special prayer:

‘Hear O Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord is one.’

I believe, as I have said many times, that our country is comprised of the best people, with phenomenal abilities, and all we are missing is the correct leadership to raise Israelis to the skies! Mr. President, if it pleases you, please pass on my deep appreciation to the citizens of Israel and tell them that I am proud to be their first representative in space.

In our mission we have carried out a number of scientific experiments, for everyone’s benefit, including Arab countries. We are acting in the interests of humanity at large. From space the world appears as one unit, without bordersand therefore I want to say, from above, from space – let’s work for peace, for a better life for everyone.

I thank you, Mr. President, and send my best wishes to you and your family for a long and healthy life.

Col. Ilan Ramon
Space shuttle Columbia,
12th day in space."

These were Ilan’s words.

We have so many disagreements and controversies, views and opinions. One man, was able in his last days, in his short life, with his strength of character to capture for a brief moment, before his death, the whole of the Jewish nation.

People of Israel, secular and religious, right and left, united around the personality of Ilan Ramon, while he was still alive. He was a representative and a symbol of the nation.

Ilan’s request to postpone the shuttle’s launch from the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, (a day of national mourning in memory of the destruction of the Temple), to the next day, in order that the festive atmosphere surrounding the launch not eclipse this sad day, the sanctification of the Sabbath in space, ensuring that there was Kosher food on the shuttle, the prayer "Shema Yisrael – Hear O Israel" as he flew over Jerusalem, all demonstrated to humanity Ilan Ramon’s special place, as a Jew and an Israeli, and thanks to this man, we were all filled with pride, unity and love.

Ilan’s decision to take symbols into space, which are symbolic of the Jewish nation, the State of Israel, the holocaust and the restoration, a picture from the holocaust, the President’s pennant, the hearts of the citizens of Israel and Jews around the world, these were moments that were spiritually uplifting.

Ilan believed he was an emissary of humanity for scientific experiments. Ilan was responsible for forty scientific experiments which would improve the quality of life for the human race, and this turned him into an international citizen, and a beloved person.

In the name of the State of Israel, I send condolences to the families of the astronauts on space shuttle Columbia who perished together with Ilan Ramon, and to all Americans.

  • Rick Husband
  • William McCool
  • Michael Anderson
  • Kalpana Chawla
  • Laurel Clark
  • David Brown

    Their joint picture, the moment that they walked with full confidence towards their fateful flight, will not be erased from my mind. The American nation, and the Israeli people placed the best of their sons and daughters on this mission and they were not privileged to see them return safely.

    I thank the American people, the leaders of the free world, and leaders in space research, for inviting us to join them in this challenge.

    Ilan Ramon served as a model and example to many. He left on a lofty mission, in the service of mankind, in the service of science, in the service of the IDF, in the service of the State of Israel, and in the service of the Jewish nation.

    Precious Ilan, we in Israel, will guard your noble character, your pleasant personality, your face, which emanates a goodness of heart and innocence. The first Israeli in space, and scientist who fell on duty, as someone who was sent by the State of Israel on a mission from which you would not return, and someone who revealed the beauty of mankind, and a patriot.

    You and your friends, paved the way for humanity, a path which will be continued, for this generation and for generations to come. In your death, you commanded mankind to continue the way of progress and development.

    Rona, Assaf, Yiftach, Noah and Ilan’s father, Eliezer and all the family: Ilan Ramon is a national symbol. Ilan is wonderful character, and not just because he traveled to space, but because he excelled, with a great love for the nation, the land, and humanity.

    I thank you, Ilan, in the name of the people of Israel, for your mission on behalf of humanity, on the honour you brought to the State of Israel, for standing at the frontline of scientific research in space, on strengthening the unity among us, on strengthening the Jewish nation.

    I thank you for your service in the IDF, for the sake of the State of Israel, for humanity.

    May your soul rest in peace, Col. Ilan Ramon, pilot, fighter, scientist, family man, a good man.