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In Memoriam - Seven Heros of the Human Race


What began so well ended so tragically for the seven wonderful astronauts of the Columbia space shuttle and their families. In their deaths, they became heros for all humanity.

We in Israel were most touched by the loss of Ilan Ramon, who represented for us everything that is good about Israel - everything of which we want to be proud. Ilan was undoubtedly chosen not only for his achievements as a pilot and technical qualifications, but because he represented the quintessential Zionist ideal of the good Israeli, everything good and beautiful that we want to build here.

If someone asks me "What should Zionism be trying to accomplish?" it is easy to say "to produce men and women like Ilan Ramon." The same is true of all the astronauts. This is is what we want our children, our societies and our future to be like, and this is what we want to do - push the envelope, master nature, create a better world for everyone. It is true whether we live on American continents, in the Middle East, in India, China, Africa, Europe, Oceania, or Australia, and whether we speak English, Hebrew, Arabic, German, French, Spanish, Dutch, Swahili or Farsi.

They were our best, and they gave their lives in the perpetual battle of man against nature. In their deaths, they became heros of all humanity.

Some reactions to the tragedy are below.

Columbia Astronauts Tribute
By Greg Hoover
Date: Feb 3, 2003

This is a tribute to the astronauts that gave their lives in the line of duty.

Seven astronauts including including Israel's first man in space died Saturday as the shuttle Columbia broke up on re-entry to Earth following a 16-day space research mission.

"These astronauts knew the dangers and they faced them willingly, knowing they had a high and noble purpose in life," President Bush said in a nationwide television address. He added: "The cause in which they died will continue. Our journey into space will go on."

The loss of the shuttle and the crew comes 17 years after the Challenger accident on Jan. 28, 1986, which claimed the lives of seven astronauts, including teacher in space Christa McAuliffe. The woman who trained alongside McAuliffe and served as her backup was to fly on Columbia's next mission this November.

The accident follows by 36 years the first fatal U.S. space program accident. On Jan. 27, 1967, three astronauts were killed in a flash fire during a test of the Apollo I space capsule. Killed were Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Edward H. White, and Roger B. Chaffee.

NASA had never lost a crew during landing, though a similar tragedy occurred in the Russian space program in 1971 when a returning Salyut space station crew died in a Soyuz capsule that depressurized during its return to Earth.

Today was a very stark reminder that this is a very risky endeavor, pushing back the frontiers in outer space," Readdy said. "And after 113 (shuttle) flights, unfortunately people have a tendency to look at it as something that is more or less routine. Well I can assure you it is not."

He added: "I have to say as the one responsible for shuttle and (space) station within NASA, I know the people within NASA did everything possible preparing for this flight to make it as perfect as possible. My promise to the crew and to the crew families is that the investigation we have just launched will find the cause, will fix it, and then we'll move on."

Columbia Commander Col. Rick Husband
Commander Rick Husband, 45, was an Air Force colonel from Amarillo, Texas. The former test pilot was selected as an astronaut in 1994 on his fourth try. He made up his mind as a child that that was what he was going to do with his life.

"It's been pretty much a lifelong dream and just a thrill to be able to get to actually live it out," the married father of two said in an interview before Columbia's launch, his second spaceflight.

Shuttle Pilot Cmdr. William McCool
Pilot William McCool, 41, was a Navy commander who grew up in Lubbock, Texas. He graduated second in his 1983 class at the Naval Academy, went on to test pilot school and became an astronaut in 1996.

McCool was an experienced Navy pilot with more than 2,800 hours in flight. But two weeks into his first space trip, he was bursting with amazement.

"There is so much more than what I ever expected," McCool told National Public Radio on Jan. 30 from the space shuttle Columbia. "It's beyond imagination, until you actually get up and see it and experience it and feel it."

McCool was married with three sons, ages 14, 19 and 22.

Shuttle Payload Commander Lt. Col. Michael Anderson
Payload commander Michael Anderson, 43, was the son of an Air Force man and grew up on military bases. He was flying for the Air Force when NASA chose him in 1994 as one of only a handful of black astronauts. He traveled to Russia's Mir space station in 1998.

The lieutenant colonel, who lived in Spokane, Wash., was in charge of Columbia's dozens of science experiments.

"I take the risk because I think what we're doing is really important. If you look at this research flight and if you really take an opportunity to look at each experiment ... the potential yield that we have is really tremendous," he said.

He added: "For me, it's the fact that what I'm doing can have great consequences and great benefits for everyone, for mankind."

Shuttle Columbia Engineer Dr. Kalpana Chawla
Kalpana Chawla, 41, emigrated to the United States from India in 1980s and became an astronaut in 1994. At the time, she wanted to design aircraft -- the space program was the furthest thing from her mind.

"That would be too far-fetched," the engineer had said. But "one thing led to another" and she was chosen as an astronaut after working at NASA's Ames Research Center and Overset Methods Inc. in Northern California.

Chawla was a heroine in India, which has launched satellites for years and is preparing for a moon orbit this decade. One Indian news agency even tracked Columbia's flight so it could tell readers the exact minute they could wave to the skies to hail their countrywoman.

"When you look at the stars and the galaxy, you feel that you are not just from any particular piece of land, but from the solar system," Chawla said in a 1998 interview with the newspaper India Today.

On her only other spaceflight, in 1997, she made mistakes that sent science satellite tumbling out of control. Other astronauts had to go on spacewalk to capture it. NASA later acknowledged that the instructions to the crew may not have been clear.

"I stopped thinking about it after trying to figure out what are the lessons learned, and there are so many," she said. "After I had basically sorted that out, I figured it's time to really look at the future and not at the past."

Shuttle Columbia Pilot Capt. David Brown
David Brown, 46, was a Navy captain, pilot and doctor. He joined the Navy after a medical internship, then went on to fly the A-6E Intruder and F-18. He became an astronaut in 1996. Columbia's mission was his first spaceflight.

When asked in a recent interview about the risk of flying in space, Brown, who was single, said: "I made a decision that is part of my job, I would incur some real risk as a routine part of my job when I joined the Navy and started flying ... airplanes off of ships, particularly airplanes off of ships at night. And I think that was a decision that I made some years ago and the decision to go fly in space is just an extension of that."

Shuttle Columbia Physician Cmdr. Dr. Laurel Clark
Laurel Clark, 41, was a diving medical officer aboard submarines and then a flight surgeon before she became an astronaut in 1996. She had been on board Columbia to help with science experiments.

"I think my family has a fairly practical and pragmatic view of this whole thing, and that's that the actual launching into space is much more dangerous than any of the other security concerns," said Clark, who lived in Racine, Wis., and was married with an 8-year-old son.

She added: "There's a lot of different things that we do during life that could potentially harm us and I choose not to stop doing those things."

Shuttle Columbia Payload Spedeletedt Col. Ilan Ramon
Ilan Ramon, 48, was a colonel in Israel's air force and the first Israeli in space. His mother and grandmother survived the Auschwitz death camps, and his father fought for Israel's statehood alongside his grandfather. Ramon fought in the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and Lebanon War in 1982.

He served as a fighter pilot in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, flying F-16s and F-4s. He was chosen as Israel's first astronaut in 1997, then moved to Houston the next year to train for shuttle flight.

His wife, Rona, and their four children -- ages 5 to 15 -- live in Tel Aviv.

Before Columbia launched, Ramon had repeatedly said he was not nervous or afraid about his safety aboard the space shuttle.

"I think the only thing that will worry me is the launch sequence and the systems and the launch, being launched on time. The tenseness is there because everybody wants to be launched on time with no failures. That's it. Once you're there, you're there," he said in a recent interview.

The sight of the shuttle breaking up above the Earth and sending a meteoric streak of debris across the sky was horrifyingly reminiscent of the Challenger disaster almost exactly 17 years ago to the day.

The seven crew members -- six Americans and the first Israeli to go into space -- were scheduled to touch down in just 16 minutes at Cape Canaveral, Fla., when the shuttle broke up at 207,135 feet. The astronauts had been orbiting the Earth for 16 days.

"Columbia is lost. There are no survivors," President Bush said in a televised address from the Cabinet Room. He said the day had brought "terrible news" and "great sadness" to the country, and that "our entire nation grieves."

The president ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff at all government buildings.

Columbia's crew had completed 80-plus scientific research experiments during their time in orbit. It was a relatively inexperienced crew; only three -- Husband, Anderson and Chawla -- had ever flown before.

The others were rookies, including Ramon, the 48-year-old Israeli Air Force colonel. A former fighter pilot who survived two wars, he carried into space a small pencil drawing titled "Moon Landscape" by Peter Ginz, a 14-year-old Jewish boy killed at Auschwitz.

"The government of Israel and the people of Israel are praying together with the entire world for the safety of the astronauts on the shuttle Columbia," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office said in a statement. "The state of Israel and its citizens are as one at this difficult time."

Dr. Yael Barr of the Israeli Aerospace Medicine Institute was waiting at the landing strip for the astronauts' return.

"When the countdown clock, when it got to zero and then started going, instead of counting down, counting up and they were still not there, I told my friend, 'I have a bad feeling. I think they are gone.' And I was in tears," Barr said.


The mind reels in disbelief as reports come in about the explosion of the
Columbia space shuttle.

We in Israel have become accustomed to announcements of terror attacks. We
have even attuned ourselves to hearing the nuances of seriousness in the
voice of the radio announcer as he or she introduces the hourly news so
that we can steel ourselves against receiving the inevitable tragic
information. Particularly on Saturday night, after spending an entire
Shabbat disconnected from the outside world, the first moment of the
post-Shabbat news is fraught with a special kind of tension.

But nothing prepared us for this.

It was just not possible.

After 16 days of almost constant news coverage about Ilan Ramon, Israel's
first astronaut, we all felt we knew him. He was family. He represented us
all -- our country, our people, our past and our future. He was our hero
at a time when we sorely needed one.

The son of Holocaust survivors, he expressed all that was characteristic
of the proud Israeli Jew. As a pilot in the Israeli air force, he was a
war hero who bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, as well as fighting
in the Yom Kippur and Lebanon Wars.
Although not religious, Ilan felt compelled to keep some significant
religious observances in space to fulfill his dream of uniting the Jewish
people and representing our nation. He took a book of Psalms and a picture
drawn by a 14-year-old Jewish boy who was killed in Auschwitz; he ate only
kosher food and made Kiddush Friday night and recited Shema Yisrael as the
shuttle flew over Jerusalem.

He said he wanted to "emphasize the unity of the people of Israel and the
Jewish communities abroad."

Among my friends, we spoke about him creating a Kiddush Hashem --
sanctification of God's name.

How could he be gone?

How could all our hopes and dreams disintegrate into the thin layer of
atmosphere that protects the earth?

We anxiously awaited his landing, to celebrate the triumph of our new
national hero. The possibility of mishap was very far from our minds.

"It's much more dangerous to drive in a car in this country that to travel
in space," Ilan's brother, Gadi, said of his attitude. "Not in our wildest
dreams did we imagine that there would be any problem."

Ilan's father said early Saturday morning, as he eagerly anticipated the
imminent arrival of his son, "The only problem might be in the weather,
and that might only delay the landing by a day or two."

The tragedy brought home to us once again the fragility of human endeavor.
We are shocked when the frontiers of science and technology, in which we
place our unflagging trust, reveal themselves to be so shaky and limited.

Colonel Ramon took great delight in taking a "surprise" with him to space
-- a Torah scroll that survived the hell of the Holocaust. The scroll
symbolized for him his dream of a unified people under God, with an
indomitable spirit.

That Torah scroll exploded along with Ramon and his fellow astronauts at
an altitude of 200,000 feet over a Texas town called Palestine (did I hear
that correctly?).

The Midrash tells us that "the Jewish nation will not be redeemed until
they are one unit." Ilan Ramon was a devoted husband, father, pilot, and
scientist. But his greatest legacy is that he brought healing to a wounded

Our hearts and prayers are with Ilan Ramon's parents and his wife, Rona,
and their four children. Our nation mourns with you. Unfortunately, it is
in grief that we have fulfilled Ilan's dream of unity.

Ilan commented this past Thursday on what the world looked like to him in
space. "The world looks marvelous from up here, so peaceful, so wonderful
and so fragile."

Now we can turn that comment eerily around and say to Ilan, "You looked so
marvelous from down here, so peaceful, so wonderful... and so fragile."
The first Afghan in Space

Farhad Ahad

As news of the Columbia tragedy flows, clamped together with the tragedy of Col. Ilan Ramon the first Israeli, and the brilliant Dr. Chawla the first Indian woman in space in her second mission, I am reminded of the news, though not as much of a headliner, of some 15 years ago. It was the news of the first Afghan in Space, namely 'Cosmonat' Abdul Ahad Mohmand.

Abdul Ahad Mohmand born in 1959, was a pilot in the Afghan Air Force when selected in early 1988 to train as Cosmonot in the former Soviet Union. He lifted off with two Soviet Cosmonots on August 29th, 1988 at the age of 29, aboard Soyuz-TM6, and docked with the Mir Space Station two days later on August 31st. He was on board the Mir SS for one week, conducting scientific experiments. Upon his return nine days later aboard Soyuz-TM5, the "landing failed due to confusion of infrared horizon sensors. Repeat retrofire attempt one orbit later resulted in a partial burn only. The crew had to spend a tense 24 hours in the cramped Descent Module (the Orbital Module having already been jettisoned before the retrofire burn) before making last chance deorbit. Finally Lyakhov and Afghan cosmonaut Mohmand returned safely to Earth and landed September 7, 160 km SE Dzhezkazgan."

After receiving death threats during the reign of tyrant Taliban, Mr. Mohmand left for Germany where he resides with his family.

Photo of Mr. Mohmand: http://perso.club-internet.fr/arnaudel/Payekhali/Spationautes/Mohmand.jpg

(Abdul Ahad Mohmand with Doctor Valery Polyakov and Vladimir Lyakhov.)
Dubbed as the evil empire's publicity stunt by the West, Abdul Ahad Mohamand proved his worth when his "sharp eyes caught a potentially fatal flaw during the return to Earth, and thereby saved the lives of the entire crew".

To some, Mr. Mohmand may be an Afghan who belonged to the Marxist party; he may have been. To my generation of Afghans, he was an Afghan who answered the call to duty when it came knocking to him, and stepped up to the plate and took the challenge and the risks that went with it. Some fifteen years later, living in exile in Germany, he remains as the first and the last Afghan who saw Afghanistan from the outer space.

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by Ami Isseroff @ 08:49 PM CST [Link]


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Replies: 3 comments

It is with a deep sense of sadness that we watched the disintegration of the Columbia Space Vehicle on Saturday 1st February at 16.20 hours in Israel.

We all hoped on the Day that the Columbia was launched with its brave crew that they would return safely.

The tragedy is terrible and we have no words to describe it. The shock that we had witnessed will never be forgotten. We had all lost seven wonderful, brave people and our sympathies go out to all the families who have endured this terrible and tragic loss.

Every astronaut was a credit to his country and their supreme sacrifice in the advancement of science can never be overestimated.

Here in Israel, our thoughts are with the families of those astronauts who had come to such a tragic end. Colonel Ilan Ramon was a credit to his country and a true example of an Israeli we would love to exemplify.

The legacy that these wonderful brave people had left should be further exploration into space and that the cause for this terrible tragedy will be solved. May all the families receive comfort in the fact that the work that these wonderful people had done will be perpetuated.

May the memories of those who fell be blessed and their respective families know no more pain.

Posted by Shimon Z. Klein @ 02/06/2003 03:53 PM CST

Brave explorers throughout history have risked their lives in pursuit of knowledge that will benefit us all, such were these astronauts.
I hope their families can take some comfort from that.

Maybe if everyone could see the world from space as they did, our conflicts would seem solvable and our commonality sure.

Posted by Karen @ 02/08/2003 02:48 AM CST

The legacy of the astronauts should be an example to everyone trying to create a constructive world society.

Unfortunately, some of the reactions to the tragedy were sad witness to the stuff that folks are made of. Shuttle debris was sold on e-bay. Someone in the Arab world started a rumor about a sinister "secret mission" of Ilan Ramon. The JNF advertised that Ilan Ramon wanted people to plant trees. Poltical commentators insisted on linking the shuttle disaster to misdeeds of an Israeli colonel in Hebron. One columnist insisted that it was legitimate, as both Ramon and the fellow in Hebron were Israeli colonels!

Posted by Ami Isseroff @ 02/14/2003 11:20 PM CST

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