A capacity crowd of more than 350 people turned out Oct. 20, 2012 for the opening night of the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival to honor fallen Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon and his fellow crew members of STS-107 space shuttle Columbia. The event marked nearly 10 years since the loss of the shuttle and its crew Feb. 1, 2003.
Highlighting the evening was the screening of a documentary, "An Article of Hope" focusing on Ramon, a colonel in the Israeli Air Force and the first astronaut from Israel, who served as Payload Specialist 1 on the mission.
Directed by Dan Cohen, a six-time Emmy award winner who worked for seven years to make the film, the documentary traces the life of Ilan Ramon and the ill-fated STS-107 mission. The film also portrays the horrors of the NAZI concentration camps during the era of the Holocaust in World War II when Ramon's parents were imprisoned in the camps.
The film provided background on Ramon's decision to bring religious items rescued from World War II with him on the STS-107 mission. Ultimately, though, despite the tragic stories of both the shuttle and the Holocaust, the film carries an uplifting message of hope and inspiration for the future.
"This film is a shining example of hope for a better day," Dan Cohen told the audience, Ramon's widow, Rona, who flew in from Israel for the event, said that of all the stories about her husband, "this was the story he wanted told."
The film's director announced that the 54-minute documentary will be shown on national television in January when it airs at 6 p.m. EDT on PBS Jan. 31, 2013, the eve of the 10th anniversary of the loss of space shuttle Columbia and its crew.
The Saturday evening event held at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Centrer in Palo Alto, Calif., also featured a presentation of commemorative plaques from NASA's Ames Research Center to three of the families of Columbia's seven-member crew.
Plaques were presented on behalf of Ames Center Director S. Pete Worden by Jacob Cohen, chief scientist at NASA Ames, to the families of Ilan Ramon; Kalpana Chawla, Mission Specialist 2; and William McCool, pilot for the STS-107 mission. The plaques commended the fallen astronauts for their "dedication to NASA and the international space community."
In presenting the commemorative plaques, Jacob Cohen said he was proud to represent NASA Ames and Director Pete Worden at the event and lauded the film for contributing "an important part of the legacy" of Ilan Ramon.
"It inspires hope and encourages the next generation of students to go into science, technology, education and mathematics," Cohen said.
Rona Ramon, who has established the Ramon Foundation to continue the inspirational work begun by her late husband, received a standing ovation from the crowd. She also stressed the importance of inspiring the younger generation for the future and urged support for the foundation.
"I encourage you to help us to help the younger generation achieve their dreams. The young generation is our future," she said.
Also in attendance was Garrett Reisman, who first met Ilan Ramon shortly after being selected to be an astronaut in 1998. They soon became close friends.
Reisman, who now works at SpaceX as a program manager for commercial crew, said it is important to continue to work on behalf of Ilan Ramon through the foundation established by his wife, Rona Ramon.
"Since Ilan can't continue on his mission, it falls on the shoulders of many people to carry on his mission," Reisman observed.
Reisman, a Jewish astronaut who has flown on two missions to the International Space Station, said although the film does begin with the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia and its crew, the film's take away message is inspirational.
"Although this film does show the tragedy of Columbia, in reality this is a story of hope, and what Ilan Ramon represented," Reisman said. "It's a wonderful, uplifting story."
While a small Torah, the Jewish bible rescued from the Holocaust and carried by Ramon on board STS-107 was never recovered after the tragic loss of Columbia, a second Torah did fly in space on STS-115 space shuttle Atlantis. Canadian astronaut Steve MacLean brought it to space in Ramon's name when Atlantis launched Sept. 9, 2006 on a mission to the International Space Station.
And the inspirational journey continues.