The body of Rona Ramon, the widow of Israel’s first and only astronaut, is lying in state in Tel Aviv.
Ramon died of pancreatic cancer Monday at age 54. Her coffin is at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. The center is open to the public to pay its last respects during the day Wednesday. A private ceremony will be held in the afternoon for close family and friends.
At her request, Ramon's body will be cremated and no funeral will be held.
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid his respects. In his eulogy, he said Rona Ramon's life was a "tragedy of biblical proportions" and that he is "deeply sorrowed" by her death. "Rona had heroically stood up after the passing of her husband Ilan and son Asaf, our admired pilots. She had, just as heroically, fought against cancer, which sadly overpowered her. We will always remember her and her incredible family."
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Ramon’s husband, Ilan Ramon, was a crew member on America’s 2003 Columbia space shuttle mission when the spacecraft blew up, killing all on board. Rona Ramon later lost her son Asaf, an Israel Air Force fighter pilot, in a training accident.
She subsequently established the Ramon Foundation to promote academic excellence and social leadership among Israel’s young people.
Netanyahu added that "what captured the heart was the way Rona stood up and continued to act like a leader. She had optimism and resilience, and the will and ability to act and create tools and bodies that worked in her spirit. I'll say in the name of us all: We will always remember you and strive to walk in your path."
NASA's administrator tweeted: "I’m deeply saddened by the passing of Rona Ramon. @NASA sends our heartfelt condolences to her family and the people of Israel. Throughout her life, Rona sought to inspire a new generation of explorers to build on the legacy of her husband, space shuttle astronaut Ilan Ramon."
Ramon was born in 1964 in the Tel Aviv suburb of Kiryat Ono. She served as a paramedic in the army and then earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education from the Wingate Institute. She later studied holistic health and worked as a holistic therapist.
In 1986, she married Ilan Ramon, an air force fighter pilot who took part in the bombing of Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981. The couple had four children.
She suffered the first of two major tragedies in her life when the space shuttle Columbia exploded on its return to earth, killing her husband, who had been on his maiden flight as an astronaut. “Organizational behavior, that’s what killed the Columbia’s crew,” she later told the Israeli investigative television program “Uvda.”
Six years later, her eldest son, who had followed his father into the air force, was killed in a training accident when his F-16 crashed in the South Hebron Hills. He was buried alongside his father at Nahalal in Israel’s north.
It was after Asaf Ramon’s death that she set up her foundation. She also began giving frequent lectures about her life and spoke a great deal about coping mechanisms in life.
Rona Ramon is survived by three children, Tal, Yiftah and Noa.