ORT Names School After Israel's Astronaut

The ORT high school in Kiryat Motzkin, which sent an experiment into space on the the ill-fated Columbia space shuttle, will be named after Ilan Ramon, the Israeli astronaut who died on Saturday together with six American crew mates when their spacecraft exploded over Texas.

The experiment, initiated by ORT in conjunction with the Technion, was aimed at learning whether the lack of gravitational forces in space affects the development of crystals.

The school was chosen in competition against other Israeli high schools and joined six schools from other countries in participating in NASA's Stars Program.

The 36 students involved in the project began this effort when they were in 8th grade and now are 11 graders.

The main corridor of the school was decked in black yesterday, with an inscription in memory of Ramon. Students with NASA T-shirts lit candles, while dozens of reporters and photographers from Israel and abroad documented the ceremony.

Ilana Zibanberg, who was one of five students to participate in a dry run of the experiment last year in Houston, sat holding hands with Adar Moritz, who was part of a second delegation sent from the school two weeks ago to watch the space shuttle's launch in Florida.

"I was very proud when the shuttle took off and we felt its powerful impact," Adar said. "Ramon was a role model for me, we met him a year and a half ago when he came to see the experiment we were preparing. He was very open and didn't talk down to us. I had a dream of being a pilot and astronaut since I was a little boy, but now I'm not so sure anymore."

The students spoke about excited they felt when their experiment finally was launched into space after a number of postponements. "We were afraid that we'd finish high school before the shuttle would launch," Adar said.

Ilana explained how the students were kept informed about the progress of their experiment via e-mail messages from the shuttle. "It's fair to say that the experiment was lost," she said, noting that the experiment data they received from the shuttle was only partial. "The plan was to receive the experiment and examine the growth of crystals using an electronic microscope." The Columbia tragedy has not shaken her determination to pursue a career in astrophysics, she added.