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Rona Ramon: My husband died in his life's mission in the company of people he loved

A compilation of quotes from the various sources as published that day  

 Astronaut Ilan Ramon's wife, Rona, spoke to reporters this evening and said that her husband died on his life's mission in the company of people he loved. The Voice of Israel reported that Rona Ramon said that she did not think during the flight that there was a problem with the ferry. She noted that NASA people support the family all the time and that the astronauts' families are in contact.

Rona Ramon: All the grieving families are one big family and we support each other. They were a bunch of angels and stayed that way.
Rona Ramon: "Ilan retired at the top"

Houston / The city is once again mourning a ferry disaster
"Ilan retired at his peak. He was with the people he loved and in a place he enjoyed so much," said Rona Ramon, the widow of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died in the Columbia shuttle crash yesterday. "It was difficult for him to convey the feeling of levitation and spirituality that jumped over him there," she added. She said that Ilan Ramon enjoyed every moment of his mission in space. "He was a very optimistic person, he didn't even write a will because it seemed unnecessary to him.
But we will continue with his living will. He had a smile and we will continue with the smile," she said in a conversation with journalists outside her home in Houston.

Ramon, wearing a shirt with the symbol of the space mission on it, with her sister who came from Israel yesterday, said that when she landed she did not expect bad news. "We stood and waited for the landing. It was a wonderful day and the clock ticked down. When it reached ten seconds, we counted down, like at takeoff. We should have heard the supersonic booms, but they didn't. Fear started and then they took us and told us they didn't know what happened, but we already knew everything," said Ramon.

When Rona Ramon returned to her home in Houston, several e-mail messages from Ilan from his last day in space were waiting for her on her computer: one of them was a message of thanks to Shimon Peres, for helping to realize the Israeli astronaut's dream (being the prime minister after Rabin's murder), and the rest - personal messages to family members. "He meant to read them together," said Rona Ramon.

She also said that she had no bad feeling or fear during the days of Ilan's stay in space: "The only thing that bothers me so much right now is that during takeoff, when we were all at 'Hi', our little daughter shouted, 'I lost my daddy (you are my father) She was probably right."

The Ramon family has not yet decided on their plan for the future, but Rona told the NASA people that they must continue the space program and not stop it because of the disaster. She is in close contact with the other astronaut families, whom she defines as "one family". According to her, "The only thing that comforts me is that they had so much fun there and loved each other so much. Just a bunch of angels."

The mourning in Houston yesterday belonged to the residents of the entire city. The pride of the city is based on the central space "Johnson" located in its area. This is NASA's central development and control base - here the space programs are developed, the ideas for conquering space become a reality and the shuttles and spacecrafts sent to carry out the mission are supervised. Together with the space center, yesterday in Houston mourned the loss of the space shuttle Columbia and the seven astronauts who were on board. The flags of the USA and the state of Texas were lowered to half-mast, and on the roads leading to the space center, local businesses placed signs identifying with the astronauts' families.

The entrance to the space base became a kind of impromptu Gal-A-D. Already yesterday in the evening, crying citizens came to the base and lit candles at the entrance, hung signs and placed souvenirs and balloons. "We will miss you all", "We will always remember you" - said the handwritten signs. Teddy bears and various souvenirs were also placed at the site, in accordance with the tradition adopted after the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 at the makeshift memorial sites at "Ground Zero" and the Pentagon.

In the center of the Gal-Ed, the Israeli flag was raised, and a sign on it said: "Ilan Ramon - you are our hero." Families with children gave up Sunday morning entertainment and came to pay their respects to the astronauts. Dozens of cars pulled up near the space base. Many shed a tear.

Before talking to the journalists, Rona Ramon locked herself in her house and disconnected the phones. Since the disaster, she has been accompanied by a close friend, who came to spend the night at her house. Also at the entrance to the residential neighborhood of the Ramon family, the flags were lowered to half-mast. The Ramon family lives very close to the Johnson Space Center, where Ramon studied and trained for his launch into space.

The family spent more than four years in Houston and became part of the family of the Jewish community. Yesterday, an impromptu memorial service was held in the synagogue next to her place of residence. The friends, who only three weeks ago said goodbye to Ilan and even wrote him a book of congratulations, gathered to mourn together. Nitsana, who wrote a song for Ilan when he took off into space, added another stanza, in which she mourns his loss.

The families of the seven astronauts came to Florida yesterday afternoon to watch the planned landing and greet their loved ones. A little while after it became clear that Colombia would no longer return, the families were taken - each on a separate plane - back to Houston. NASA is prepared in case of a disaster - each family was assigned a psychologist and another representative of NASA to accompany them in the difficult moments.

But the Ramon family has more help from former astronaut Steve McLean. The latter, who flew in Colombia 11 years ago, was Ramon's companion throughout his training at NASA. McLean and his wife became close friends of the Ramon family, and they were the ones who accompanied Rona and the four children - names - Asaf (14), Tal (12), Yiftah (9) and Noa (5) - even after the disaster. NASA believes that an experienced astronaut, who is well aware of what happens during the flight, can help more than any psychologist during the tense days of the space flight, and also upon receiving the bitter news.

Lt. Col. Rani Falk, currently the attaché of the US Air Force, is an old friend of the Ramon family. Falk was Ilan Ramon's friend in the pilot course, and since then the two have maintained a close relationship. When Rona and the children returned to Houston, she asked Falk to come and stay with her at home in Houston. In the last e-mail letters that she showed to Falk, Ilan Ramon wrote to Rona "we will meet soon on the ground" and said that he misses her. Noa, Ramon's youngest daughter, told Falk: "Dad looks down on us. He stayed upstairs."

Israel's ambassador to the US, Danny Ayalon - who came to Houston to accompany the family - said that he was impressed that Rona Ramon was strong. "She told me about her last conversation with Ilan, on Wednesday. He told her how beautiful the universe is and how much he feels a part of it," said Ayalon. Then Rona told him that now Ilan would be a part of the same universe he admired so much.

Other family members of Ilan and Rona Ramon came to Houston from Israel yesterday, including Ilan's father, Eliezer Wolferman, and his brother, Gadi Ramon. NASA plans to hold an official memorial service tomorrow for the seven astronauts who perished on the Columbia shuttle. The family members as well as official representatives of Israel are expected to participate in the ceremony, which will be held in Houston.

The American media turned their attention yesterday from the Iraqi crisis to the ferry disaster. The feeling of national mourning took over the agenda and became a conversation in almost every home in America. The headlines of all the newspapers in the USA were dedicated yesterday to the description of the disaster and the photographs of the last moments of Columbia, which disintegrated in the air.

Houston feels the disaster closer than others. "We are mourning again", read the main headline of the "Houston Chronicle" newspaper, expressing the feelings of all the city's residents. Not two decades have passed since the city was hit by the loss of the Challenger ferry, whose streets and centers in the city are named after her and her crew members. Now the city begins anew the process of mourning. Johnson Space Center was once again the epicenter of disaster and loss.
The President of the United States, George Bush, will visit the Space Center in Houston, Texas tomorrow for a memorial service for the seven people killed in the space shuttle Columbia.
The IDF is about to send a representative of the military rabbinate to Texas, to help identify the body parts of the astronauts from the Columbia shuttle. A final decision on the matter will be made tonight. Apparently, a relatively senior officer will be dispatched, specializing in the issues of identifying the victims and their burial. The IDF has not yet announced the Israeli astronaut, Col. Ilan Ramon, as an IDF astronaut. If no body parts are found, the chief military rabbi is authorized to define Ramon as a space whose burial place is unknown.

 The government was united

On Sunday morning, the government meeting opened with a short ceremony to commemorate the "Columbia" ferry disaster. The Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, said that the cooperation between Israel and the USA in the field of space will continue, and that more Israeli astronauts will be sent on exploration missions in space. Sharon noted that he did not get to know the astronaut Ilan Ramon, but he knew about his past as a daring pilot and an outstanding commander.

The US ambassador to Israel, Dan Kartzer, participated in the cabinet meeting and said: The US and Israel share not only victories but also misfortune." According to him, Americans and Israelis are brothers in Israel and in space. The commander of the Air Force, Major General Dan Halutz, also participated in the meeting. The flags of Israel and the USA were lowered to half-mast this morning due to the mourning for the seven astronauts.

Israel sent condolences to the families of the astronauts, to the President of the United States and to the American people. President Bush spoke with Prime Minister Sharon last night and asked him to convey his condolences to the Ramon family and the people of Israel.

Ramon in a letter to Katsav: "We can bring the people of Israel to heaven"  
The President of the country, Moshe Katsav, yesterday evening sent his condolences to the family of the astronaut Ilan Ramon. Katsav spoke yesterday evening with Ramon's father, Eliezer Wolferman, and told him that he was shocked by the disaster and expressed his deep pain.

"Ilan Ramon brought pride to the people of Israel, and glorified the name of the country by being the first Israeli space pilot. Ramon enlisted in faith to make a scientific contribution to all of humanity," said Katsav.

Katsav mentioned yesterday the last e-mail that Ramon sent from the ferry to the president's house, which was received last Thursday. In his letter, which was published the other day in Haaretz, Ramon described what Israel looked like through the window of the Columbia shuttle: "This morning we flew over Israel," he wrote, "from space I clearly saw Jerusalem. While looking at our capital, I prayed one small prayer, 'Hear Israel'." Katsav said yesterday that he was particularly moved by the Israeli astronaut's prayer.

Ramon added in his letter: "I believe that in Israel we have the best people, with phenomenal ability. With the right leadership, we can bring the people of Israel up to the sky."

In his letter, Ramon described the set of experiments that he and his flight partners were conducting during their time in space, and told about the luck he had in being the first Israeli in space. At the end of his letter, Ramon stated: "We work for the benefit of humanity. From space the whole world appears as one unit without borders. Therefore, I want to read from space - let's work for peace and a better life for everyone in the world."

President Katsav announced last night that he ordered the flags at the presidential residence to be lowered to half-mast. He sent a letter of condolence to the President of the USA, George Bush, in which he expressed his condolences to the American people, to NASA as well as to the families of the astronauts who were on the shuttle. The President noted that once again the partnership of fate between the people of Israel and the American people has been proven.

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