How Israel’s First Astronaut Inspired a Nation
There has been perhaps no greater dream for mankind than to visit the stars above. And for the Jewish people, there has been no greater dream than to return to the Land of Jerusalem. Ilan Ramon is an Israeli icon and legend that encompasses both of these dreams. His tremendous life was cut tragically short during the space shuttle Columbia disaster on February 1st, 2003. However, by cementing himself in the history books as the first Israeli to enter the cosmos, he has become a legend. Today, June 20th, 2012 would have been his 58th birthday. In the nine years since Israel saw one of their own fly into space, a new generation has been inspired to look up at the stars and embrace science. Despite being a country the size of New Jersey, Israelis are prominently represented in major international science competitions. Earlier this year, a pair of Israeli students became finalists in the YouTube Space Lab competition.
Another group of Israelis are taking part in one of the most ambitious, and amazing projects, the Google Lunar X prize. An Israeli NGO, Space ILseeks to take up this mission to become the third country to land on the moon, with an astoundingly small robotic craft. Plans are currently in place to name a new space center in Israel after Ilan. He is the only non-U.S. citizen to date to receive the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. Countless schools are named after him in Israel (and America as well). Even a mountain range on Mars bares his namesake.
Ilan represented so much to so many people, and his life story, though extraordinary, was relatable to every Israeli. His mother was a holocaust survivor, his grandfather perished in Auschwitz. When he took flight, he brought with him a mezuzah adorned with barbed wire symbolizing the concentration camps, as well as a copy of the drawing “Moon Landscape,” created by a 16-year-old boy killed by the Nazis. Only six decades after the Jewish people were almost exterminated, here was Ilan Ramon, a Jew, not only surviving, but flying. In more ways than one, his life cemented the famous words spoken by Theodor Hertzl: “If you will it, it is no dream.