Israeli Astronaut's Diary Goes on Display in Jerusalem

Israeli Astronaut's Diary Goes on Display in Jerusalem
Yigal Zalmona, a curator at the Israel Museum, displays pages from the diary of Ilan Ramon, an Israeli astronaut who died in the fatal mission of space shuttle Columbia, in Jerusalem, Sunday, Sept. 28, 2008. (Image credit: AP Photo/Rachael Strecher.)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Pages froman Israeli astronaut's diary that survived the explosion of the space shuttleColumbia and a 37-mile fall to earth are going on display this weekend for thefirst time in Jerusalem.

The diary belonged to IlanRamon, Israel's first astronaut and one of sevencrew members killed when Columbiadisintegrated upon re-entering the atmosphere on Feb. 1, 2003. Part of therestored diary will be displayed at the Israel Museum beginning Sunday.

A little over two monthsafter the shuttle explosion, NASA searchers found 37 pages from Ramon's diary,wet and crumpled, in a field just outside the U.S. town of Palestine, Texas.The diary survived extreme heat in the explosion, extreme atmospheric cold, andthen "was attacked by microorganisms and insects" in the field whereit fell, said museum curator Yigal Zalmona.

"It's almost a miraclethat it survived — it's incredible," Zalmona said. There is "norational explanation" for how it was recovered when most of the shuttlewas not, he said.

NASA officials did notimmediately respond to requests for comment.

The U.S. space agencyreturned the diary to Ramon's wife, Rona, who brought it to forensics expertsat the Israel Museum and from the Israeli police. The diary took about a yearto restore, Zalmona said, and it took police scientists about four more yearsto decipher the pages. About 80 percent of the text has been deciphered, andthe rest remains unreadable, he said.

Two pages will bedisplayed. One contains notes written by Ramon, and the other is a copy of theKiddush prayer, a blessing over wine that Jews recite on the Sabbath. Zalmonasaid Ramoncopied the prayer into his diary so he could recite it on the space shuttleand have the blessing broadcast to Earth.

Most of the pages containpersonal information which Ramon's wife did not wish to make public, he said.

"We agreed to do therestoration completely respecting the family's privacy and the sensitivityabout how intimate the document is," museum director James Snyder said.

The diary provides noindication Ramon knew anything about potential problems on the shuttle.Columbia's wing was gashed by a chunk of fuel tank foam insulation at liftoffand broke up in flames just 16 minutes before it was scheduled to land at theKennedy Space Center in Florida. Allseven astronauts on board were killed.

The diary is beingdisplayed as part of a larger exhibit of famous documents from Israel'shistory, held to mark the country's 60th anniversary this year. Also on displaywill be Israel's 1948 declaration of independence, the 1994 peace treaty withJordan and a bloodstained sheet of paper with lyrics to a peace anthem that wascarried by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the time of his assassination in1995.

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