Col Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut, launches into space on board the NASA shuttle “Columbia”.
Five years after Col. Ilan Ramon had been chosen to be the first Israeli to launch into space, and after many holdbacks and delays, Ramon and six colleagues were launched into space on board the American shuttle “Columbia” in flight STS-107. At 17:30 exactly (Israel time), the shuttle left the ground at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and was already steadily orbiting the earth eight and a half minutes later, as planned.
Col. Ilan Ramon’s training process in NASA included many levels. Even in his first months he managed to fly a space shuttle simulator and after less than a year he had completed his training as a cargo specialist in the space shuttle. Col. Ramon also experienced zero-gravity flying in an American KC-135 aircraft designed to train the course’s cadets in zero gravity.
At the fall of 2000 the astronaut team forming Ramon’s flight partners had been set. Apart from Ramon, the crew included six other astronauts, three of them logging at least one mission in space while the other three, just like Ramon, are entering space for the first time.
The beginning of 2001 marks the STS-107 flight crew’s mutual trainings. Since then, for a period of two years, the crew members had continued to train and practice. Part of the training included precise simulation of entire days of the planned mission.
On October 2001, the crew left for a two-week journey in the Rocky Mountains for the purpose of training the astronauts for a long and intimate stay in space. The journey was meant to train the crew for the long flight in space. “It’s about a small team, kept together 24 hours a day, in a small cramped space with virtually no privacy or ability to escape, without the option of seeing other people, in a high workload and equally high risks. The consequences are both psychological and inter-personal”, explained Ramon in an interview for the Air Force Magazine.
The shuttle successfully launched into space on the 16th of January 2003. In the 16 days the astronaut crew remained in the shuttle, they had to perform over 80 various tasks. Ramon’s busy daily schedule in space included a physical workout, medical examinations (partially for research purposes) and overseeing the different experiments he was entrusted with. The main Israel experiment Ramon performed, MEIDEX, was designated for the research of atmospheric aerosols (also know as “dust”), their physical characteristics, mobility and effect on the atmosphere. The goal was to apply the experiment’s results in the fields of weather forecasting and climate simulation. In addition, the experiment included secondary targets such as a visibility research, albedo measuring and the analysis of a relatively latent phenomena known as “Sprites”.
On February 1st, with it’s atmospheric reentry, the Columbia crashed due to damage caused to the left wing during take off. All seven crewmembers died in the crash.