Ilan Ramon

Voices from the field

Remembering Ramon: An Interview With Hezi Levy

On February 1st, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts on board, including Ilan Ramon, an Israeli Air Force Colonel and Israel's first astronaut. Hezi Levy reflects on what it was like growing up with Ilan and what would make him proud today. 

What was Ilan Ramon like?

“Ilan was a great athlete. He was very popular: handsome, smart, the whole package. When he went to serve, he became a top gun pilot in the Israeli army. I always anticipated he would be a professor or something, but it was surprising the route he took to become an astronaut. When we both entered the army, I went to the infantry and he went to the air force. 

Ilan had the unique ability to converse with all kinds of people and make them feel comfortable. He had the gift of making everybody feel good around him. And he had such humility, too – he never bragged or talked about his achievements. It was amazing – that’s the biggest compliment that I can give to Ilan.” 

What do you think would make Ilan proud today?

"Unfortunately, his older son passed away in a similar way that Ilan did. Assaf died in an F-16 fighter jet training exercise. Ilan would have been so proud of his son. He was proud of being a Jew. He was proud of Israel. If he was around, he would want to be an ambassador for Israel around the world.”

What do you think Ilan Ramon would want his legacy to be?

 “Ilan wanted everyone to know to follow their dream. He was up in space, and to him there were no boundaries or borders between Israel and its neighbors. His legacy was to educate all people so each person can achieve excellence. And that’s what the Ramon Foundation is focused on. 

Ilan wrote in my yearbook: ‘I know you’ll find yourself to be successful in this world. And one day we’ll meet. The only thing you could have done differently is take English.” In 1996, when he was in the United States, we reunited, read the yearbook, and had a laugh. That will stay with me forever... If there’s one takeaway from this interview, it’s this: Keep on following your dream. And be proud as a Jew. Nobody can take that away from you.”