Ten years ago today, the crew of the space shuttle Columbia was lost; a punctured wing broke up during re-entry, and the nation mourned another space tragedy.
The loss of life also opened a window into a story several decades in the making. The whole thing has now been told in a new PBS film, “Space Shuttle Columbia: Mission of Hope.”
The extraordinary story features Israeli Air Force legend Ilan Ramon, who accompanied the crew into space. Ramon, who flew into legend more than 20 years before when he took part in the famous destruction of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor at Osirak, was filled with hope when he boarded Columbia more than two weeks prior.
Dan Cohen has described Ramon as “a man used to rising to the occasion.”
Ramon understood who he was.
“I am the son of a Holocaust survivor,” he once told Israel Radio. “I carry on the suffering of the Holocaust generation, proof that despite all the horror they went through, we’re going forward.”
Interestingly, stories from the horrors of the Nazi death camps helped Ramon go forward.
He carried with him into space a copy of a drawing, “Moon Landscape,” created by a boy murdered at Auschwitz. He also carried a miniature Torah scroll, saved from one of the camps by a boy who promised his rabbi that he’d tell the story.
My friend Alex Grobman, executive director of the America-Israel Friendship League (and a consultant for this film), is thrilled with the efforts to make the film:
“Ilan Ramon was an exceptional man, a charismatic personality who recognized that being part of the Columbia shuttle crew was a transformational experience,” Grobman said. “Ramon embodied the best of Israel. One cannot view this film without understanding the depth of his humanity, love of Israel, and responsibility to the Jewish people. Being involved with this production, as an historian, as a Jew, was a great honor.”