NASA informed Israeli authorities early Wednesday that remains of Colonel Ilan Ramon, Israel's first astronaut and a member of the crew of the shuttle Columbia's calamitous final flight, have been positively identified.
Ramon's remains will be flown to Israel next week and will be buried in a military funeral.
Ramon and his six American fellow astronauts were killed Saturday as their space shuttle, Columbia, broke up during re-entry following a 16-day research mission.
"A few minutes ago, NASA officially announced that Ilan Ramon, of blessed memory, had been identified, and we can bring him for burial in Israel within a few days," said Air Force Brigadier-General Ronnie Falk, IAF liaison to the United States. "The identification is certain, and was carried out by NASA experts, with the participation of a member of the IDF rabbinate, at our request."
According to Jewish law, if remains are not found, a funeral is not possible. Falk said that as a result of the identification, and the fact that a burial would now take place, "There is a certain degree of relief being felt by all of us here, including the close family."
The IDF rabbi who accompanied the identification process, Lieutenant Colonel Zvi Black, said Wednesday that "There is not a shadow of doubt regarding the professional and scientific knowledge of the American laboratories that carried out the tests, and we therefore accepted the identification as absolute."
IDF Chief Rabbi Israel Weiss said Wednesday that samples from all the body parts were taken for DNA testing, and "this morning we received a clear, positive, scientific answer that leaves no room for doubt" about the identity of the remains.
Weiss expressed relief at receiving the announcement because it removed ritual uncertainties. Ramon's father, Eliezer Wolferman, said that not all of his son's remains had been found.
The NASA announcement came less than 12 hours after a memorial was held Tuesday for the seven men and women who perished in the shuttle disaster. The memorial began with a Hebrew prayer read by a U.S. navy rabbi.
Thousands of people, led by U.S. President George W. Bush, gathered at the home of NASA's Mission Control to honor the seven who were killed as the shuttle broke up over Texas on Saturday during its re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.
Bush spoke of each astronaut in turn, telling their families that their sacrifice was not in vain and vowing that American space exploration would go on. He described Ilan Ramon as "a patriot, the devoted son of a Holocaust survivor, who served his country in two wars."
The president said that Ramon "also flew above his home. He said 'the quiet that envelops space makes the beauty even more powerful and I only hope that the quiet can one day spread to my country'."
Ramon's body was one of four sets of remains that have been positively identified, Israel Radio reported Wednesday. The DNA and jaw bone of Ramon's body were checked to ensure that they were indeed his, the radio said.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday that top investigators of the shuttle disaster were analyzing a photograph taken by an amateur astronomer from a San Francisco hillside "that appears to show a purplish electrical bolt striking the craft" as it passed over California during re-entry.
It said the photograph was taken at 5:53 A.M. Saturday, as sensors began showing the first indications of trouble aboard the craft, which broke up in flames over Texas seven minutes later.
Yad Vashem exhibits 'Moon Landscape' Also Wednesday, Israel's Holocaust memorial center opened an exhibit to show the original of a drawing copy Ramon carried into space. The drawing was made by a teenage Czech boy who was later killed in the Auschwitz death camp.
Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority is displaying the 1943 drawing, "Moon Landscape," by 14-year-old Peter Ginz, who made the drawing before he was deported to Auschwitz.
Earlier it was believed that Ramon was carrying the original pencil drawing. Instead, he had a copy made to NASA specifications, said Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev. Ramon's mother and grandmother survived Auschwitz.
"When we came across 'Moon Landscape,' we knew that we had something personally relevant for Ramon," Shalev said . "Not only was Ginz murdered in Auschwitz, but his drawing reflects his vision of how earth would look from the moon," he said.