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Mon, Feb 28, 2005

Pages From The Past: Ilan Ramon's Diary Salvaged

Journal By Israel's First Astronaut Survived Fiery Columbia Fate

Deciding to even attempt it was hard enough for Israeli police document examiner Sharon Brown. IDF Colonel Ilan Ramon, one of the seven astronauts who died when the shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry February 1, 2003, had kept a diary of his first space flight. Not only did the pages survive Columbia's destruction, the 38 mile-long fall to Earth and two months' exposure to the Texas elements.

The mere act of reconstruction was itself a danger to the mound of papers found in an East Texas pasture in April.

"You know what a lit match could do to that pile of papers?" Brown asked during a forensic scientists' convention in New Orleans. She was quoted by the Associated Press.

In all, 18 handwritten pages of Ramon's diary were recovered. Of those, 12 were technical notes he'd made before the mission. Six contained personal notes -- which Brown refused to disclose.

It wasn't until a request from Ramon's widow, Rona, that Brown painstakingly restored the documents. Rona wanted to know more about her husband's last thoughts.

While Brown tried at first not to read what she was so carefully piecing together, she told reporters there was no way to get the job done like that.

Is there anymore to the diary? Brown doesn't know -- and may never find out. "We don't know whether he just stopped writing or ran out of paper, or other pages were destroyed."

FMI: www.nasa.gov

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