Ramons legacy continues in saved experimental data

About a third of the data collected by the Columbia shuttle team for the Mediterranean Israeli Dust Experiment (MEIDEX) was transmitted to Earth last week, but the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration has not yet completed its evaluation of how much scientific information from other experiments was destroyed when the spacecraft exploded Saturday.

This was disclosed on Sunday by Professor Yuval Ne'eman, head of the Israel Space Agency, who added that the scientific knowledge that was saved will be the astronauts' legacy.

Ne'eman, a world-renowned physicist and twice Israel's minister of science, said he learned of the tragedy while watching TV, like everyone else. "I was worried all the time, not because I knew of any special problem.

I am always worried. When an Israeli press officer in Washington congratulated us on the Columbia launch, I told her I wouldn't relax until the astronauts land safely. Accidents can always happen, but it seems as if the Jewish people sometimes have very bad luck."

Col. Ilan Ramon, who died along with the six U.S. astronauts, never spoke to Ne'eman about the possibility of an accident or sacrificing his life during the mission. The space agency head last conversed with Ramon when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called the spaceship a week ago and had a pleasant talk.

Asked about the best way to memorialize Ramon, Ne'eman said the Jordan Valley College, which has just introduced a space science and astronomy center, decided Sunday morning to name itself after the fallen astronaut. In addition, Ne'eman, who has excellent ties with the International Astronomical Union, will suggest naming a crater on the moon or some other celestial phenomenon after Ramon.

"There is already a large moon crater named for Rabbi Levy Ben-Gershom (the Ralbag), a very important figure from the Middle Ages who wrote about astronomy. In addition, there was Avraham Ibn Zacuta, who was among the Jews sent away from Spain in 1492 who settled in Portugal who has a crater called Zacut named for him.

In modern times, a moon crater was named for Albert Einstein, while a plain on the planet Venus was named in 1972 for Irena Kupo, a Soviet Jewish space scientist who discovered that Jupiter's moon Io spreads sulphur and sodium. This was not proven until the Voyager spacecraft actually showed it."

Despite talk that the Columbia spacecraft was "too old," the most veteran in the fleet to fly, Ne'eman said he generally has a great deal of trust in NASA. "They are very careful, but the cause of the accident has to be checked thoroughly."

To those Israelis and Americans who conclude from the tragedy that space flight is too risky, Ne'eman declared: "It still is more dangerous to cross a city street."

Itamar Rabinovich, president of Tel Aviv University, whose scientists developed the MEIDEX experiment, issued this statement on Sunday: "Col. Ramon and his fellow astronauts lived their dreams and ours as they soared through space. Theirs was a mission of hope and discovery. Col. Ramon was a pioneer and national hero to the Israeli people and to Jewish people around the world.

"His commitment to Israel and his faith serves as an example to all of us. For nearly 30 years, [he] served and protected Israel. His mission to space was shared by all of Israel and all the world, and shines on as a beacon of light for our nation. He, and all the astronauts on board, will be in our hearts forever."