Jerusalem Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, lifted the spirits of a troubled country when he blasted off last month on the space shuttle Columbia. The shuttle's disintegration just before landing Saturday brought back the numbness of sudden loss.
Ronit Federman, a friend of Ramon's since high school 30 years ago, took comfort from e-mails she received from the astronaut during his flight.
"I'm sure he was the most satisfied of people in his last moments," Federman told Israel's Channel 10 television. "He wrote about the divine happiness of looking at Earth. He wrote that he would like to keep floating for the rest of his life. That was the last sentence he wrote to us."
Ramon, 48, was an air force colonel and the son of a Holocaust survivor. His military career included fighting in two wars and bombing an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981.
But those missions were carried out anonymously. He became a national hero overnight as newspapers featured him on the front page. Israel television stations carried live broadcasts of the Jan. 16 liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Ramon's 79-year-old father, Eliezer Wolferman, said,"I think of everything from the day he was born until now. I have no son, it is very sad and I don't know what else to say."
Ramon's wife, Rona, and their four children, who have lived in Texas for several years while Ramon prepared for the flight, were at Cape Canaveral for the landing.