Ilan Ramon, my dear commander and friend, carefully documented in fine detail all his experiences during the preparations and training for his launch into space on the Columbia Space Shuttle. Here is one piece about the Space Station, from a letter he wrote exactly 21 years ago, just days before Rosh Hashana:
A Letter to the Israel Air Force, October 2000 - We’ve Reached the Final Stretch Before Lift-Off
.....There has been yet another interesting development at NASA since last July. At last, after two years of postponements and delays, a critical component has been launched to the International Space Station - the Service Module. This is the third component in the Lego being assembled in space, a component built in Russia with American investment. This component is critical, because it enables astronauts to begin manning the Space Station. It’s the one that contains the life support systems necessary for this.
The moment this component was sent to the Space Station and connected successfully, the project shifted into high gear. Early next month the first crew is going to be launched to the Space Station, and from that moment on it will be permanently manned for the next 15-20 years. This is undoubtably an important milestone in mankind’s continuing journey of space exploration. There are going to be three members in the first crew. The commander is an American astronaut named Sheppard and there will be two Russian cosmonauts with him. The three of them are preparing for a four-month stay at the Station. While they are there, the three of them are going to be occupied mostly with the continued assembly and commissioning of the Station’s components. Over this period, other space shuttles are going to continue to arrive with more parts and components, and unmanned Russian spacecraft, the Progress model, are going to ferry supplies and will also serve as waste storage facilities. Once their job is done they are going to detach from the Station, fall toward earth and burn up in the atmosphere. This work on assembling the Space Station is going to take five more years.
Over time, when the assembly is complete, the astronauts will be freeing up more and more time for scientific experiments. This actually is the reason this Station was built in the first place. The continuous presence of astronauts in space - 24 hours a day, 365 days per year, over the next 20 years - means the way NASA operates is going to have to change quite drastically. Till today they have worked in “pulses” - concentrating their efforts on those times when there was a shuttle in space, an effort that lasted between one and two and a half weeks. From now on, work becomes a continuous, round-the-clock shift routine. The frequency of the flights is also expected to increase: this coming year seven shuttles are scheduled for launch, so one can certainly say that NASA is now in the midst of a major shift in the style and pace of its work. And finally, a cute anecdote from the NASA corridors:
Two days after the space shuttle Atlantis made its last successful landing, Ed Levy came to us in our room. He’s the astronaut that did a “space walk” together with a Russian cosmonaut, and he told us about one of his experiences. The space walk usually lasts between six and eight hours and requires a tremendous effort from the astronauts. They have got to be at the peak of their concentration. Anyway at some stage during their walk Levy had to wait about three minutes for his Russian counterpart to complete what he was doing. The astronaut that was supervising them from the shuttle cockpit directed Levy’s attention downwards. He told Levy they were now above South America and that the sunrise was beginning to show on the horizon. Below them was a huge electric storm. Levy tells us that he maneuvered himself so that the shuttle and the space station would be behind him, disconnecting him from the world, leaving him alone facing nature and the Earth. As he looked down, he tells us he saw an awesome spectacle: a gigantic electric storm below him, thousands of lightning flashes darting to and fro over his entire field of view, and on the horizon - a thin sliver of dawn’s first light from the rising sun. ”This”, said Levy, “is a spectacle I have never ever seen and will never ever forget”.
That’s it for now. Happy New Year - Shana Tova - to us all!
Colonel Ilan Ramon, Houston.
Ilan himself never actually boarded the International Space Station. He and his companions on the Columbia Shuttle ran their experiments in space, without docking at the Station.