Ilan Ramon walks the pathways of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, slowed by the weight of the thick book under his arm. It's the bible of the "magnificent seven" -- the group of astronauts scheduled to blast off in the space shuttle Columbia Jan. 16 from the Kennedy Space Center. Among these elite seven, for the first time, will be an Israeli astronaut.
Ramon, 48, a colonel in the Israeli Air Force (IAF), counts among his experience more than 4,000 hours in fighter jets. Following a decision by President Bill Clinton in 1995, the United States and Israel signed an agreement stipulating that an Israeli astronaut would fly on a U.S. space shuttle as a payload specialist, supervising an Israeli scientific experiment.