JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, met with the seven families of the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia.
The families, whose astronauts died in 2003 when the shuttle disintegrated while reentering the earth’s atmosphere, are in Israel for Israeli Space Week.
They are visiting Israel at the invitation of Rona Ramon, who had asked them to attend for the first time the annual memorial ceremony for her husband, Ilan, Israel’s first astronaut
Rona Ramon died last month. Her children asked Rivlin to meet the families instead.
The families presented Rivlin with a picture taken at the training compound in 2002, several months before the disaster. It shows the astronauts’ space suits hanging next to each other with American flags on their sleeves, and the Israeli flag on the sleeve of Ilan Ramon’s suit.
Space Week was the initiative of Rona Ramon and includes conferences for researchers and educational events for over 100,000 children.
Evelyn Husband-Thompson, wife of commander of the Columbia mission Rick Husband, thanked Rivlin. “We are all so proud of you, and proud of the Ramon Foundation. It is difficult and emotional, but we also look forward to the future. On behalf of all the families, we are so happy to be here,” she said.
“I want to welcome you all here – not as guests but as family,” Rivlin said. “When we think of the seven crew members of the Columbia, we feel deep grief, but also boundless pride. They flew to the heavens to push the boundaries of human knowledge.”