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Remarks at the Memorial Celebration for Ilan Ramon
Honorable Sean O'Keefe
NASA Administrator
Embassy of Israel
Washington, D.C.

Thank you David (David Seagal, Counselor for Congressional Affairs, Embassy of Israel) for that gracious introduction. Good evening ladies and gentlemen and especially to you Rona (Rona Ramon) and your wonderful family. And thank you Ambassador Ayalon (Daniel Ayalon, Israel's Ambassador to the United States) for organizing this special event.

On behalf of the dedicated men and women of NASA, I'm tremendously honored to participate in this evening's celebration of the life of a treasured member of the NASA family, Ilan Ramon.

Yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery, last evening at the National Air and Space Museum and here tonight we've had occasion to recall how the cherished lives of our Columbia astronauts were defined by the great purposes that took them to the heavens.

For 16 days in Earth orbit, from what Prime Minister Sharon described as the "edge of the scope of human achievement," the Columbia crew worked with unflagging spirits on an ambitious life and physical sciences research agenda, a research agenda we are just at the very beginning of reaping the benefits.

One of those experiments was the Mediterranean Israeli Dust Experiment, a very productive scientific project to monitor dust particles in the atmosphere that Ilan operated with great skill and exuberance.

During their mission of exploration and discovery, the astronauts also had the opportunity to look with awe and wonder at the beauty of the Earth below.

With great humility, Ilan took special pride in viewing his homeland from that unique vantage point.

As he looked down upon the land of Israel, Ilan sent President Moshe Katsav the following joyous message: "Mr. President, please convey my deep appreciation to all Israel's citizens, and let them know that I am honored to be their first representative ever in space. In our mission, we have a variety of international scientific experiments and scientists working for the benefit of all mankind. From space our world looks as one unit without borders. So let me call from up here in space: Let's work our way for peace and a better life for every one on Earth."

Seeking to address in part the significant challenge that Ilan has placed upon all of us for the betterment of humankind, NASA and Israel's Space Agency remain committed to continuing our close cooperative relationship in space research. As NASA moves in the coming months and years to implement President Bush's new vision for space exploration, we will undoubtedly continue to count on our friends in Israel. Our future exploration of the solar system will carry on Ilan's legacy, and that of other space explorers from around the world, who have made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.

I might add that we at NASA are extraordinarily privileged to have heroes the caliber of Ilan representing all humanity as we extend our grasp into the vast reaches of God's creation.

Throughout his life of achievement and service to his nation, Ilan constantly sought tremendous challenges worthy of his remarkable spirit and abilities. There were always mountains to climb and miles to walk before he slept.

Yes, mountains to climb. His favorite landscape were the beautiful Galilee Hills of Israel. One of his most memorable experiences was a three-week trek in the Himalayas of Nepal. He bonded with his crewmates on a 12-day wilderness expedition in the Wind River Mountain Range of Wyoming.

Truth be told, there are other daring mountain explorers in the Ramon family. Last summer Rona, Asaf, Tal, David and Noaa, along with the family members of the other Columbia astronauts, participated in a climb of Colorado's Columbia Point, one of our country's newest landmarks.

Unfortunately, a storm prevented them from getting to the 14,000-foot summit of Columbia Point. But while on the mountain they were able to hold a remembrance ceremony at 13,100 feet, the same height that the crew ascended to on Wind River Peak in Wyoming during their training, and were able to see a special jet flyby tribute to the crew. I salute all the Ramon kids for helping to carry on the legacy of their father's adventurous spirit.

I'd also like to add some words of praise for Rona. This past year she's been a true woman of valor, inspiring us all with her tremendous grace and dignity. Rona, we are so proud to have you as a member of the NASA family.

Rona, on behalf of the men and women of NASA, with the help of the Ramon family's good friend astronaut Steve MacLean, we'd like to make a special presentation. Throughout the history of the space program, NASA has honored those responsible for our most important achievements with medals and decorations that express our highest esteem and admiration. I would now like to honor Ilan by presenting you with the NASA Space Flight Medal, one of NASA's highest tributes. The NASA Space Flight Medal is awarded to those astronauts who have performed with distinction on a Space Shuttle mission. Rona, it is with great pride and affection that I wish to present this medallion to you. I also wish to present you with NASA's Distinguished Public Service Award, which recognizes individuals whose meritorious contributions have helped advance scientific progress and the mission of NASA.

Finally, I would like to present you with two other precious items. First we have for you one of the Americans flags we flew at half-staff at the Johnson Space Center following the loss of Columbia last year. Also we have for you the Israeli flag used for the Columbia's crew formal portrait. I hope this flag will always be a source of inspiration to you, your family and your fellow countrymen.

I thank everyone here tonight for the opportunity to participate in this wonderful celebration of a hero for our time, and for all times, Colonel Ilan Ramon.