U.S. Astronauts Visit Israel for Anniversary of Columbia Crash

American delegation honors Israeli astronaut who died in shuttle disaster.

A delegation of American astronauts began a visit to Israel on Sunday that will include memorial services for Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut, who died in the the Columbia space shuttle crash four years ago.

Joseph Tanner from NASA and Steve MacLean from the Canadian Space Agency met with Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog, at the request of Ramon's widow, Rona Ramon. The two astronauts were good friends of Ilan Ramon.

"When Ilan was in space, we all felt the excitement and uniqueness of his task," said Rona Ramon. "Space captures the imagination. I am glad to be with Steve and Joseph today, who are good friends who continue to perpetuate Ilan's memory."

Tanner and MacLean are expected to take part in a private memorial ceremony at the Israeli astronaut's grave and in several other memorial events for the Columbia crew.

The Columbia broke up in flames over Texas after re-entering the atmosphere on February 1, 2003, killing all seven crew members.