On the morning of January 16, 2003, Ilan Ramon waited for the countdown to reach zero. Columbia was the first space shuttle to have ever flown and Ramon was Israel’s first astronaut. It was a cold morning but that didn’t stop the usual crowd from gathering to watch this launch. The moment finally arrived and Columbia climbed into orbit for the final time. For sixteen days, Ilan Ramon worked with six American astronauts on science experiments, blissfully unaware of the problems that would doom Columbia along with its crew.
How did an Israeli, or any foreign, astronaut get to fly on the Space Shuttle? In Ramon’s case, that story began before he was even born.


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