July 12, 2005

Columbia Widow to Skip Discovery Launch

JERUSALEM -- The widow of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon said she won't attend Wednesday's launch of space shuttle Discovery because the pain over her husband's death in the Columbia disaster is still too fresh.

NASA invited the families of the seven Columbia astronauts to the launch, the first shuttle mission since Columbia broke up on re-entry 2 1/2 years ago, killing all aboard.

"It (the launch) is not for me at the moment," Rona Ramon told Israel Army Radio Tuesday. "All the families will be there except for Evelyn Husband (widow of Columbia commander Rick Husband) and I."

Ramon said it was too soon for her and her four children to experience the emotional turmoil of the launch in public and under the glare of the media.

"Every one goes through their own process in their own time," she said, noting that one of the families of the 1986 Challenger disaster would only now be attending another launch. Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch, killing its seven astronauts.

Ramon said she would watch the launch on TV, even though it would be difficult.

"There are very mixed emotions here, taking me back to those crazy emotional seconds when Ilan took off for space," she told the radio. "There was a lot of happiness mixed with concern. And the concerns can materialize. It is a dangerous business as we know."

Ilan Ramon, a former fighter pilot who took part in Israel's bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, was the payload specialist on the shuttle flight and Israel's first astronaut.

Ramon said she harbored no bitterness toward NASA and supported the decision of the other families to attend the launch.

"The other families decided to attend to show support for the team at NASA who have made great efforts to implement the findings of the (accident) report," she said.

Finding that a chunk of foam insulation knocked a hole in the shuttle's wing at launch, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board also cited overconfidence in the management of NASA and slack safety measures.

Ramon said she spends most of her time working on education projects to commemorate her husband. Later this week, she is to dedicate the control tower at Israel's new international airport terminal. The tower has been named for Ramon.


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