Ramon was the Yoni Netanyahu of his generation.
A charismatic military officer, he planned and led the daring 1981 bombing
raid on Iraq’s nearly complete nuclear reactor.
The son of Holocaust survivors, when chosen to be the first Israeli
astronaut, he hoped to use the mission to bring a remarkable true story to the
world’s attention. Unfortunately though,
he was assigned to Columbia’s tragic final 2003 flight. Daniel Cohen documents the man and the
history that inspired him in Space
Shuttle Columbia: Mission of Hope (promo here), which airs this
Thursday on PBS stations nationwide.
was an ace F-16 pilot. He half expected
not to survive the then controversial Operation Opera. Yet, all planes came back unscathed in what
quickly came to be considered the most successful Israeli military operation
ever. At the time, it was duly, if
reluctantly, condemned by the U.S. government.
Twenty-two years later, he became the only non-American citizen to win
the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.
if the Columbia disaster was not heavy enough, Mission of Hope is also profoundly concerned with the
Holocaust. While Ramon was just one
generation removed, Joachim “Yoja” Joseph, the senior scientist supervising
Israel’s Columbia experiments, had survived Bergen-Belsen as young boy. Thanks to a courageous Rabbi, Joseph had his
bar mitzvah in the camp with the aid of a tiny Torah. Knowing his time was short, the Rabbi gave
the boy that Torah for safe keeping. Decades
later Ramon carried it into space, along with several other surviving
concentration camp artifacts.
Ramon’s story would seem to be one of bitter irony, Cohen wisely emphasizes the
inspirational aspects of his life and mission.
Featuring interviews with his widow and commanding officers, as well as
candid video footage shot by his Columbia mission comrade Dave Brown, Hope conveys a strong personal sense of
Ramon as an individual. To his credit,
Cohen is not afraid of idealism or patriotism.
Hope reminds viewers of the
pride and optimism inspired by the early days of the space program. Appropriately, Cohen does not delve into the
causes of the disaster. There are better
venues to explore such issues. Instead,
he focuses on Ramon and his crewmates.
is hard to imagine anyone watching Hope without
getting a catch in their throats.
Frankly, it is rather baffling the film has not screened extensively on
the festival circuit before its PBS debut, especially considering Hollywood
space booster Tom Hanks’ role as executive producer. Educational and unexpectedly uplifting, Mission of Hope is enthusiastically
recommended for general audiences when its screens this Thursday (1/31) on most
PBS outlets, with a rebroadcast of Nova’s
Space Shuttle Disaster scheduled to follow.
Labels: Documentary, Ilan Ramon, Space Shuttle Columbia