Ilan Ramon was celebrated as the first Israeli astronaut, and especially in his home country, he
was the focus of a maelstrom of attention as the Columbia flight approached.
Much of the attention revolved around whether he would be a target of terrorism, but he pushed those
concerns aside, saying the mission was about science and benefiting the world.
He assured his family -- Ramon, 48, and wife Rona had four children -- that flying on the shuttle was
"I tell them maybe now, more than ever, after the last delay, that NASA is taking care, very, very
seriously, of all the safety issues, and I feel like I'm going to fly as safely as I could ever be in the shuttle," he said.
Though he was a secular Jew, he respected his role as the first Israeli in space and ate kosher food
provided by NASA. He also tried to observe the Sabbath, but was having a hard time fitting it in during Columbia's heavy work
schedule, during which a sunset occurred every 90 minutes.
Though his family was at Kennedy Space Center for launch and landing, he didn't expect a lot of Israelis
to attend the launch.
"I believe that the hearts and the souls of the people from Israel will be with me, but maybe not the
bodies," Ramon joked before the mission. His good humor was always in evidence, even when plagued by questions about terrorism
and strife in his homeland.
The Israel Air Force colonel had a bachelor of science in electronics and computer engineering from
the University of Tel Aviv, in his hometown.
Ramon's main responsibility on the shuttle was the Israeli experiment that studied dust storms' effect
on climate and unusual lightning phenomena.
He was amazed at what he saw during his first space flight.