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The remains of the experiment carried out by Ilan Ramon in space are returning to Israel

NASA has responded to Rona Ramon's request and the remains of the "Madex" experiment from the "Columbia" shuttle are returning to Israel, 13 years after the crash

From right to left: Prof. Ze'ev Levin, Director of the Israel Space Agency Menachem Kidron, Rona Ramon, Minister of Science Ofir Akunis, US Ambassador Daniel Shapiro, Chairman of the Israel Space Agency Prof. Yitzhak Ben Israel. (Photo: Yoav Ari Dudkevich)
From right to left: Prof. Ze'ev Levin, Director of the Israel Space Agency Menachem Kidron, Rona Ramon, Minister of Science Ofir Akunis, US Ambassador Daniel Shapiro, Chairman of the Israel Space Agency Prof. Yitzhak Ben Israel. (Photo: Yoav Ari Dudkevich)

On the same subject: Bob Cabana - Director of the Kennedy Space Center: NASA has learned to listen to criticism. Rona Ramon: I want them to remember the inspiration, not the tragedy


Exactly 13 years after the "Columbia" disaster involving Ilan Ramon, remnants of the Israeli space experiment are now returning. On the occasion of Israel Space Week, which is celebrated this week throughout the country, the Israel Space Agency at the Ministry of Science received a special tribute from NASA: the remains of the "Madex" experiment to study desert dust storms and their consequences on the climate, which was designed by scientists from Tel Aviv University and carried out in space by Ilan Ramon. The remains will be displayed and kept at first in the offices of the Israel Space Agency in the Ministry of Science.

The arrival of the remains of the "Columbia" shuttle to Israel was made possible in light of the request of Rona Ramon, head of the 'Ramon Foundation for Education for Excellence and Space', to take the remains out of the United States to Israel for the first time, and to allow Israeli youth to be exposed to the groundbreaking world of research and space. Last May, at a meeting between Rona Ramon and NASA head Charles Bolden held in New York as part of the launch of a Ramon Foundation project, Bolden informed that NASA would return the remains.

In a special tribute ceremony held today at the Ilan Ramon space conference of the Israel Space Agency at the Ministry of Science, the remains were returned and revealed to the public for the first time. The ceremony took place with the participation of Rona Ramon; Science Minister Ofir Akunis; Robert (Bob) Cabana who trained and was in close contact with the Columbia team and is currently the Director of the Kennedy Space Center at NASA; US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro; the chief researcher of Madex, Prof. Ze'ev Levin; Director of the Israel Space Agency in the Ministry of Science Menachem Kidron; Chairman of the Israel Space Agency Prof. Yitzhak Ben Israel; Air Force representative David Barki.

Minister of Science Ofir Akunis He said at the ceremony: ""Ilan Ramon's legacy continues even after him and is an inspiration to young people, scientists and the general public. The experiment conducted by Ilan contributed a lot to science and its results continue to contribute to research and researchers in the field to this day. The experiment, which came out of Israel and was designed by Israeli scientists, returned today to its home in Israel and will receive the rightful place of honor here." The minister also said that next week he will go to a series of meetings at NASA in which he will ask to examine sending another Israeli astronaut.

Upon receiving the exciting message from NASA she said Rona Ramon Because "this is about closing a circle for me and for all those involved in science and space exploration in Israel. I am excited that the head of NASA remembered my request and responded positively to bring the remains of the shuttle to Israel, in order to allow our youth to be inspired by the story of the late Ilan and the "Columbia" and to contribute to education for the love of science and technology."

In the collection process carried out by NASA with the help of the public after the accident and identifications, remnants of the experiment were found: the camera with which Ramon filmed the experiment in space, a control system, the housing of the camera's lenses, struts, a recording drive and other electronic components.

As part of the Israeli Space Agency's agreement with NASA in 1996, it was agreed that Ramon would carry out the "Madex" experiment planned by scientists at Tel Aviv University. The experiment on the "Columbia" tested the physical, optical and chemical properties of dust particles, in particular over the eastern Mediterranean. It was a pioneering experiment that measured the properties of dust particles at different heights, experiments that until then had only been done on the ground. The main researcher of the experiment, Prof. Zeev Levin from Tel Aviv University explains: "The goal of the 'Madex' project was to contribute to the understanding of processes related to the effect of dust particles on clouds and through them on the climate, a process called the 'indirect effect.' The experiment was conducted with the aim of providing knowledge for the use of climate models and weather forecasts, dust storms, rain amounts and more."

The experiment was chosen from among many proposals submitted and Prof. Levin says that NASA showed a special interest in this experiment since it also helped to calibrate two American satellites. The experiment was planned in two parts that were supposed to operate simultaneously - on the shuttle, Ramon and the "Columbia" crew operated a camera with different wavelengths that, when dust storms occur over the Mediterranean Sea, were photographed by the shuttle. At the same time, a research plane flew above and inside the storm to measure the particles at different heights. In this way it was possible to verify and calibrate the measurements made from the shuttle.

Another sub-experiment was later added to Madex for photographing elves at night - flashes of light in different colors that appear for a very short time at heights of up to a hundred kilometers above the lightning storms. Here, too, it was the first experiment to photograph the same sprites from space with a camera with several wavelengths in order to understand the processes that cause them to appear. "The photos received from Ramon were spectacular in their beauty," says Prof. Levin.

The results were not long in coming. During the mission in space, several dust storms occurred in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa, the results of which were broadcast in real time to Earth. Unfortunately, the results of the storm that occurred over the eastern Mediterranean west of Ashkelon, shortly before the end of the mission, did not reach the control center in time and were lost with the crash. But most of the results that came from the experiment yielded and continue to yield academic fruits and even for further research. For example, the study of sprites, which was a marginal topic in the study of electrical phenomena in the atmosphere, gained momentum as a result of the 'Madex' publications and resulted in similar measurements from the space station by a Japanese astronaut and a Danish astronaut.

The relationship with Ilan was not just a research one: "Ilan was a person we loved" says Prof. Levin. Each of the researchers sent something into space with him: songs on CDs, photos of the great-grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and the second chief researcher at "Madex", the late Prof. Yosef Yehochin, even sent a Torah scroll that he received as a child in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. In email correspondence with Ramon during his stay in space, the researchers wrote down poems and poems for him. "Ilan had an in-depth understanding of processes and high technical ability. He took the experiment personally," sums up Levin.

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