It was February 1, 2003, at 4:30 PM. My family and I were sitting in the car on our way to visit long-distance family members. This was supposed to be a big day: Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut and an old family friend, was supposed to land at Cape Canaveral, along with six fellow astronauts. Ilan Ramon’s voyage to space was the most talked about topic in the Israeli media. We followed Ramon and his family from the moment of the takeoff, through his videos from space, and the romantic song his wife dedicated to him from millions of miles away. We all saw him as a symbol of Israeli achievement. He was the one we all believed in, the one we were all united in admiring.
We had all been waiting for Feb. 1, the day when Ramon would step out of the space shuttle, wave to the cheering crowd, hug his wife and kids, and return home a hero. Even while on the road, we did not want to miss the historic moment, and so my father turned on the radio to listen to the roadcast of the landing. I will never forget the moment when we realized something went wrong. My mother started to cry. My father caught his breath. I asked what happened, and slowly began to understand that Ramon would never again step outside the shuttle — would never be reunited with his family.
Rona Ramon was supposed to be the happiest woman in the world that day. After waiting patiently, standing by husband and supporting his career, she was ready for it all to pay off. After moving with their young children to a family residence at an Air-Force base; after moving to the U.S. for NASA training; after 16 sleepless nights while her husband was outside of Earth’s atmosphere, Feb. 1 was supposed to be Rona’s day.