- The Washington Times - Monday, February 3, 2003

TEL AVIV, Israel, Feb. 3 (UPI) — Astronaut Ilan Ramon's wife, Rona, said Monday her husband had been with people he loved and in a place he greatly enjoyed when he died in the space shuttle Columbia.

His career, she told reporters in Houston, had ended at its pinnacle.

Wearing dark sunglasses and a light blue shirt with the logo of the shuttle, and with a relative at her side, she said that her husband found it difficult to communicate the sense of being in space, floating "and the spiritualism that grabbed him there."

Ilan Ramon had talked about the need for peace on Earth and messaged Israeli President Moshe Katsav about a short prayer he said while orbiting over Jerusalem. Ramon was a secular Jew but took several Jewish artifacts, including a miniature Torah scroll and a wine cup for Sabbath blessing, on his trip.

Rona Ramon said they had been waiting at Cape Canaveral, Fla. for the landing and had never thought of that stage in the flight as being dangerous. As the clock showed the shuttle was due they started a countdown from 10, and it was quiet.

"We had to hear supersonic booms and they didn't come. Then worries began and they took us away and told us they don't know (what happened.) But we knew everything. There was no room for doubt," she said.

She said she didn't have to break the news to her four children since NASA had done so.

Israel has made arrangements to send a military chaplain to the United States. In the Israeli army, military chaplains are responsible for identifying bodies and arranging burials.

Israeli leaders stressed they intended to continue with their space efforts.

"U.S.-Israeli cooperation in this endeavor will continue as

well. The day will come when other Israeli astronauts will be launched into space," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told his Cabinet.

The air force's second in command, Brig. Gen. Eliezer Shkedi, said Sunday every military operation now has some space element. Israel has launched two spy satellites and a communications satellite as well.

Shkedi maintained Israel had to be active in space to cope with the threat of long-range missiles. Locating the sight of a missile launching, "taking care of the launch" and a counter strike "is done in space or through space," he said.

One of Ramon's tasks was to monitor the effects of dust in the air and the air force magazine said it was hoped that it would be possible to improve the ability to photograph and observe an area day and night, even "under conditions of heavy dust that cover the entire area."




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