Astronaut Ilan Ramon’s widow hopes his work will inspire youth

Exactly 13 years after the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere, the remnants of the Meidex experiment on desert dust storms conducted by Israel’s first astronaut, payload specialist Ilan Ramon, have been delivered to Israel.

On Tuesday, a special ceremony conducted under the auspices of Israeli Space Week unveiled the items, which include the camera Ramon used to document his research work: a control system, the camera’s lens mount, supports, a recording disk drive, and other electronic fragments.

The relics from the shuttle arrived in Israel following a request by Ramon’s widow, Rona Ramon, who heads the Ramon Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting personal and academic excellence and space study. Ramon asked NASA to send the items outside the U.S. for the first time to allow Israeli youth to gain exposure to the groundbreaking world of space and scientific research.

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Last May, Ramon met with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in New York while she was there to launch a new Ramon Foundation project. Bolden informed her that NASA planned to return the remnants of Ilan Ramon’s space research to Israel.

“This is closure for me and for all those who work in science and space research in Israel,” Ramon said.

“I’m touched that the head of NASA remembered my request and agreed to bring the remnants of the shuttle to Israel to allow our young people to gain inspiration from the story of Ilan and the Columbia, and contribute to teaching them to love science and technology,” Ramon said.

Ilan Ramon’s research on board the Columbia investigated the physical, optical and chemical properties of dust particles, in particular over the Mediterranean Sea. It was a groundbreaking experiment that measured the properties of dust particles at various altitudes, research that until then had been conducted only on the ground.

According to Professor Zev Levin of Tel Aviv University, the chief researcher on the Meidex project, it was “intended to contribute to the understanding of the processes related to the effect of dust particles on clouds and through them on the climate, a process called ‘the indirect effect.’ The experiment was conducted to provide knowledge about the use of climate models and weather forecasts, dust storms, rain quantities and more.”

Ramon was present at Tuesday’s ceremony, held at the Israel Air Force Center in Herzliya, along with Levin; Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis; Robert Cabana, who trained the Columbia team and was in close contact with them, and who today is director of the Kennedy Space Center; U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro; Israel Space Agency Director Menachem Kidron; Israel Space Agency Chairman Professor Isaac Ben-Israel; and representative of the Israeli Air Force Brig. Gen. David Barkai.

Akunis said that “the legacy of Ilan Ramon continues and serves as an inspiration for young people, scientists and the public at large.”