JERUSALEM (JTA) — Members of seven families of the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia came to Israel to celebrate Israeli Space Week at the behest of Rona Ramon, wife of Israel’s first astronaut Ilan Ramon.
Ilan and the other astronauts on the Columbia died in 2003 when the shuttle disintegrated while reentering the earth’s atmosphere. Rona asked the group to attend the annual memorial ceremony for her husband. But she died in December of cancer.
Her children asked Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, to meet the families instead.
The families presented Rivlin with a picture taken at the training compound in 2002, several months before the disaster, which shows the astronauts’ space suits hanging next to each other with American flags on their sleeves, and the Israeli flag on the sleeve of Ilan Ramon’s suit.
Space Week was the initiative of Rona Ramon and includes conferences for researchers and educational events for over 100,000 children.
Evelyn Husband-Thompson, wife of commander of the Columbia mission Rick Husband, thanked the president and said, “We are all so proud of you, and proud of the Ramon Foundation. It is difficult and emotional, but we also look forward to the future. On behalf of all the families, we are so happy to be here.”
“I want to welcome you all here – not as guests but as family,” Rivlin said. “When we think of the seven crew members of the Columbia, we feel deep grief, but also boundless pride. They flew to the heavens to push the boundaries of human knowledge.”