|Israeli Students Honor Columbia Astronaut Ramon||
Each year on Feb. 1, junior and senior high school students from Be'er-Sheva, Israel make a pilgrimage to Kennedy Space Center to honor and be inspired by the late Ilan Ramon, an Israeli Space Agency crew member who lost his life aboard Space Shuttle Columbia during the STS-107 accident.
Image to right: Space Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach speaks with the students at Kennedy's education center. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
"We choose to visit on Feb. 1, the day of the disaster, on purpose. Our first purpose is to honor the memory of Ilan and the crew of Columbia. Our second purpose is to create as much interest as possible in space sciences for kids," said Kee Koch, the English teacher for the students and program co-coordinator from Makif Gimel High School, Ramon's alma mater.
After reviewing applications and screening candidates, Koch selected this year's 44 students based on good behavior and their potential to benefit from the trip. The students are responsible for securing funds for the weeklong experience, while people in the Brevard County Jewish community provide lodging in their homes.
"Many of these students are in special programs and take college courses starting in ninth grade. This is a reward for doing a wonderful job," said Jeffrey Fishkin, a Launch Vehicle Processing Directorate engineer who organized the spaceport events.
During their visit, they participated in interactive Exploration Station demonstrations at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, learned about the STS-107 mission and how students contributed to its experiments, were encouraged by Kennedy leaders including astronaut Randolph Bresnik, Launch Director Michael Lienbach and Fishkin, and memorialized Ramon at the Space Mirror Memorial. The students also visited local schools, the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, and enjoyed Orlando theme parks during their leisure time.
According to Fishkin, education was important to Ramon, so the program was created in 2003 to continue spreading his message by offering a cultural and educational experience. "If you want to be an astronaut, pilot or engineer, you have to get an education and learn science and math," he said. "We hope to establish a program where we can send some of our kids to Israel, too."
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center