I was painting Ilan Ramon in stars and trying to catch that special twinkle in his smiling eyes, when I got that 'you've got mail' signal. It was Dotan Dimet, editor of Israel's science-fiction 'fanzine', the Tenth Dimension, asking if I would consider doing a Columbia memorial painting for the cover.' 'I'm already working on it', I typed back. And indeed I had started working on the painting within minutes of hearing of the disaster.Usually my covers for the fanzine are parodies of science fiction and fantasy movies and stories, leaving the real world outside the halls of fantasy. But Ramon's reality is part of our dream. As children we built our starships and helmets from cartons, with Asimov and Heinlein, Clarke and Bradbury as our guides. Surely Ramon did the same, as did every one of the scientists and technicians who created the space program. The Space Shuttle was built by a multi-billion-dollar government agency, but it stands on a foundation of cardboard boxes with portholes and control panels drawn in crayon.
     For the science fiction community, space travel is the inevitable first step into the next era of human endeavor, a stepping beyond the confines of this little rock into a solar system, galaxy, a universe of infinite possibilities. In this universe the human race is a small tribe sending out its first scouts into the vast wilderness around us. There is no room for squabbling and fighting over little patches of ground or silly points of ideology, they are all small when you look down on them.
     I always have a reminder before me-the wallpaper on my computer is a view of Israel-Palestine as photographed from the Shuttle. You see no boundaries, no flags, no occupiers, no terrorists. Ilan Ramon reported the same inevitable thought from his perch, and promised after his flight to promote peace by sharing the spaceman's vision of one small, lovely, fragile earth. Russians and Americans, yesterday's deadly enemies, live and work in orbit together; why not, for example, Jews and Arabs?
     I met Ilan Ramon briefly a couple of years ago, just to shake hands. He was on a brief home visit from his course of astronaut training and had come to Tel Aviv University to speak to the kids in the science program-especially about the dust observation experiment which had been conceived by these kids. My friend Thomas and I were listening to the lecture and I was struck by the open-eyed smiles of delight between the space-traveller-to-be and his audience.
     Thomas Goodman, a Florida native, former director of the Tel Aviv Planetarium and doctor of Planetary Astronomy, has been exciting kids about science through science fiction for years. It is his dream to build a fantasy park where the visitor will fly to distant solar systems, walk strange planets and meet aliens.
     Ilan was delighted by the idea, and confirmed that everyone he knew at NASA had not gotten there by chance, but had grown up on science fiction. It was time for a generation of Israeli children to grow up on a vision of the future-not only a proud past and a troubled present.
     The twinkle in the eyes, the look of excitement and wonder, of the joy of the game becoming real, this was the look I saw in the faces of the children and of the child-hearted adults at that lecture. It was the same delight I saw in the faces of the seven crewmen of Columbia as they floated before the camera. Even the Israel TV correspondent, used to cynically interviewing sullen, defensive, prevaricative politicians, caught the bug of wonder as he broadcast from the launch site, his careful comb-over waving free in the Florida breeze as he too became a wide-eyed child. When it comes to space, we are all wide-eyed children. This was the look I was trying to catch in the painting, the smile of the future.
     As a boy, I used to draw endlessly, and spacemen and spaceships were favorite themes. I sometimes drew crashed vessels, burnt and broken starships on distant worlds. I suppose the fragility of the thin metal shell of the craft in comparison to the infinity of space is part of the daunting enormity of the vision of space travel, and the possibility of disaster makes us realize the daring and courage of the pioneers, and disasters will always be part of space travel as shipwrecks are part of the history and romance of seafaring.
     Along with the entire nation, we Israeli science fiction readers mourn Ilan Ramon as one of our own, one who shared our dreams and dared to live them. We know he was the first, and many more will follow, because the future is up there. And the future, as always, is just beginning.
The article originally appeared in The Jerusalem Report; the illustration in The Tenth Dimension

Ilan Ramon, in memoriam  
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