Patti Labelle singing, "Way Up There."
Elegy for Columbia
By Dave Bender
Growing up in Florida among the sleepy citrus groves, I spent years immersed in stories, images and sheer wonder at the US space program. My room was littered with posters and photos, books and magazines, Super-8 filmstrips and ViewMaster slides of the Apollo, Gemini and Mercury space shots. Plastic models of futuristic craft from 2001 a Space Odyssey; novels by Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury and kindred sci-fi writers were close refuge to another, beckoning dimension for a small-town kid growing up near Tampa in the 1960s.
"Sometimes my family and I would pack the car and drive cross-state to Cape Canaveral, parking along the roads miles away from the looming launch pads, waiting anxiously to see that distant spurt of orange-red flame and billowing smoke far-off past the mangroves and coastal marsh; waiting for the luminous white arc, an ethereal exclamation point slicing through the brilliant Florida skies, memories flowing onto scratched and faded films and photographs of the era.
"Years later, as a high school student in Houston, Texas, I'd visit the museum at NASA's Mission Control Center with it's relics of moon shots, Saturn-V rockets and boosters; giants' toys casually sprawled across neatly manicured lawns. The hulking fossils, reminders of man’s greatest scientific feat in reaching the moon overshadowed any thoughts of the people who made it so – their families and their friends. I took it all for granted, a not-so-little kid still lost in the wonder of spaceflight, but unaware of the effort’s true engine.
"And then decades later, on February 1, 2003, I was shocked – devastated – at the urgent news reports that marked the close of a Sabbath in Israel. Columbia was lost, its crew killed. I tried to find the words to explain to my own children that Ilan Ramon, a payload specialist aboard Columbia, and Israel’s first astronaut, had simply vanished in an instant far above the world, leaving behind only ripped relics and luminous white streaks in the blue skies high above Texas. Live radio reports telling America, Israel, and the rest of the world joined with jittery, handheld-camera clips; memories flowing into digital files of the era.
"Months later, I met with the bereaved families, NASA and Israeli officials at a memorial service on a cold, windy bluff outside of Jerusalem. The shared elegy of pain was all so close, so personal. Mrs. Ellen Husband, the widow of flight commander Rick, barely managed to choke back tears when I asked her if she felt the presence of her husband among us as we stood among the saplings planted to commemorate the Columbia Seven.
""Oh, yes... I do,' she said, with conviction.
"Interviewing Husband and the others, I felt a deep, near-inexplicable bond as a very personal circle closed -- both with grief over the very public loss of their loved ones -- and as an American-born Israeli, coping with the ever-present threat of sudden, tragic loss far closer to Earth."
"As I watched Husband's young son Matthew water the supple Pistachio sapling, set among six others in the loamy clods of holy earth, a boy of about Matthew's age, sitting riveted to TV coverage of an Apollo countdown somewhere under brilliant Florida skies murmured a last goodbye, and a blessing for the memory of seven heroes."
By Caroline B. Glick. From: Jerusalem Post, February 1, 2003:
"In 1981, IAF Col. Ilan Ramon flew one of the F-16 jets that blew up the Iraqi nuclear reactor in Osirak. In so doing he saved the country and perhaps the entire world from the specter of a nuclear holocaust.
"For the past 16 days, as Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon again saved us. This time he was not armed with a payload of bombs on a fighter craft. This time Ramon set off for outer space on the Columbia space shuttle, armed with a picture of the Earth as seen from the moon drawn by a Jewish boy in Theresienstadt concentration camp (see Moon Landscape drawing), a torah scroll from Bergen Belsen, a microfiche copy of the bible, the national flag and the dreams and hopes of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. Ramon saved us this time not by clearing our skies of the threat of nuclear attack, but by reminding us of who we are and of what we can accomplish if we only have faith in ourselves."
Video of Israel from Columbia: