Since the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster three years ago that claimed the life of Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, Assaf Ramon
has said he hoped to follow in the footsteps of his illustrious father.
Last week, he took the first step towards realizing that dream: After completing the exhausting first-stage trials, Ramon was notified that he'd passed the initial test and has been accepted one of the IDF's most exclusive courses, figther-pilot training.
About a year after losing his father, then-16-year-old Ramon said he wanted to be an astronaut.
"Israel must send another astronaut," Ramon confidently told Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's leading daily. He said that his first step to outer space would be to emulate another of his father's accomplishments: to serve as a combat pilot in the Israel air force.
"I hope they choose me," he said. "I really want to be an astronaut. This desire became very strong after the (space shuttle) accident. I want to share my father's experiences, and to understand what he felt. I think I'll feel closer to him that way."
One of his father's astronaut friends gave him his first push towards the skies with a special 16th birthday present: flying lessons.
Assaf was 10 when went with his family to Houston, Texas in 1998, after the commander of the air force picked Ilan Ramon as the most qualified candidate to space shuttle training program. It was there he spent his teenage years.
He talks about the intense training the astronauts underwent, and about his close connection with his father.
"He was a great father. He loved to carry on like a little kid. He was always happy, a man who wanted peace and love in the world."
Excitement turns to horror
Eventually, after several setbacks and disappointments, Ilan Ramon was chosen for the Columbia mission. "I'm excited, not scared," Assaf said at the time. And after takeoff, he said, "We've passed the most dangerous part, and everything's okay."
He said he wasn't afraid the day the shuttle was supposed to land, and that he was just waiting to hear the sonic boom and for the uneventful landing that never came.
Then a NASA representative entered the room, closed the door, and took a deep breath.
"We've lost contact with the shuttle over Texas," he said. "The shuttle's exploded. There's almost no chance of finding survivors."
Assaf said he was angry at the failures revealed by the official commission of inquiry, appointed immediately following the disaster, and especially with regard to reports of safety failures with regard to shuttle flights.
"I don't know what their reasons are, but this was a terrible decision," Assaf says about NASA's decision to continue the mission even after a fault was discovered immediately after lift-off.
"I'm proud my dad was an astronaut, but I'm sorry NASA decided to continue the mission despite the problem."
A year after the disaster, Ramon returned to Israel, and finished high school at Bleich High School in Ramat Gan.