Cosmic communication

Ilan Ramon’s space diary moved to National Library

Late Israeli astronaut’s handwritten pages survived the 2003 explosion that destroyed the Space Shuttle Columbia during reentry, killing all aboard

Gavriel Fiske is a reporter at The Times of Israel

Composite image of the late Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon against a backdrop of one of his diary pages, recovered and restored after the fatal 2003 explosion of the space shuttle Columbia. (courtesy NLI)
Composite image of the late Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon against a backdrop of one of his diary pages, recovered and restored after the fatal 2003 explosion of the space shuttle Columbia. (courtesy NLI)

The handwritten diary of the late Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon has been moved to the National Library of Israel, where it was digitally scanned and then stored in a climate-controlled vault alongside other rare and fragile items in the collection, the NLI said in a Wednesday statement.

Ramon was aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia when it exploded in 2003 during reentry into the earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts aboard. His diary, in which he kept notes and comments in Hebrew during the 16-day mission, evidently glided back to earth and landed in a damp, swampy area, heavily damaged but largely intact.

The diary was previously kept at the Israel Museum for two decades, where the pages were restored and preserved, a process that took four years. Two of Ramon’s sons, Tal and Yiftach, accompanied the diary to its new home at the NLI.

Ilan Ramon was Israel’s first astronaut and a career IAF fighter pilot, most famously taking part in Operation Opera, the 1982 bombing of Iraq’s Osiraq nuclear reactor. His wife Rona died of cancer in 2018 and received the Israel Prize posthumously for her work with the Ramon Foundation. Their eldest son, Assaf Ramon, died in a 2009 training accident while attending IAF flight school.

The diary contains Ramon’s notes and observations from the mission, along with personal reflections. Ramon had brought other personal items to space, including a small Torah scroll that had survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, and some wine for the Shabbat Kiddush blessing.

“Apparently aware he was to broadcast the ‘Kiddush’ live from space, Ramon wanted to make sure he did not forget a single word” and wrote down the Friday night prayer, with notes, in his diary, the NLI noted.

A page from Ilan Ramon’s diary, which survived the 2003 Columbia space shuttle explosion largely intact. (courtesy NLI)

In one excerpt from Ramon’s diary, provided in translation to English by the NLI, he wrote about the morning routine for astronauts: “Travel diary, day six. Today was perhaps the first day that I truly felt like I was really ‘living’ in space! I’ve turned into a man who lives and works in space. Like in the movies. We get up in the morning with some light levitation and we roll into the ‘family room’. Brush my teeth, wash my face, and then go to work. A little coffee. Some snacks on the way, off to the lab…a press conference with the Prime Minister, and then immediately back to work, observing the ozone layer.”

Tal and Yiftach Ramon with the protective case containing their father’s diary, at the National Library of Israel, in an image released on May 29, 2024. (courtesy NLI)

In another excerpt, taken from a conversation he held in orbit with then-prime minister Ariel Sharon, Ramon wrote about the view of the Earth from space: “From our perspective here in space, we look at you and see a world without borders, full of peace and splendor. Our hearts carry a prayer that all humanity as one can imagine the world as it appears to us, without borders, and can strive to live together in peace.”

The diary is to go through an additional conservation process, and then it will be decided if it will be added to the NLI’s permanent exhibition for the general public.

“In the meantime, it is being kept in good company here. It ‘lives’ in the same room as the writings of Newton and Maimonides,” said Marcela Skezely, head of the NLI Conservation Laboratory.

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