An accurate investigation of the behavior of electronically excited states of atoms and molecules in the post shock relaxation zone of a trajectory point of the FIRE II flight experiment is carried out by means of a one-dimensional flow solver coupled to a collisional-radiative model. In the rapidly ionizing regime behind a strong shock wave, the high lying bound electronic states of atoms are depleted. This leads the electronic energy level populations of atoms to depart from Boltzmann distributions which strongly affects the non-equilibrium ionization process as well as the radiative signature. The importance of correct modeling of the interaction of radiation and matter is discussed showing a strong influence on the physico-chemical properties of the gas. The paper clearly puts forward the shortcomings of the simplified approach often used in literature which strongly relies on the escape factors to characterize the optical thickness of the gas.