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Kona’s Ellison Onizuka

Posted January 28, 2015 – 9:58amUpdated January 28, 2015 – 10:17am
Kona’s hero: Remembering the legacy of Ellison S. Onizuka

Ellison Onizuka is seen on Kailua Pier with a 420-pound marlin he boated on March 14, 1985. WHT file photo

Ellison S. Onizuka

Ellison Onizuka is seen with keiki in this March 1985 photo. WHT file photo

Ellison Onizuka signs autographs on April 22, 1985. WHT file photo

Ellison Onizuka waves in this March 9, 1985, photo. WHT file photo

Ellison Onizuka’s brother and nephew, Claude and Russ Onizuka, of Kona, look over a memorial exhibit to the late Kona-born astronaut at the space exhibit during the 1988 Hawaii County Fair in Hilo. WHT file photo

Ellison Onizuka speaks at Kealakehe school in March 1985. WHT file photo

A visitor walks past a bust of astronaut Elison Onizuka in the space center at Kona International Airport. File photo/West Hawaii Today

Ellison Onizuka speaks at a Big Island school in March 1985. WHT file photo

Sunbeams illuminate flowers placed at the Space Mirror Memorial Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015 as NASAs Kennedy Space Center in Florida pays tribute to the crews of Apollo 1 and space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, as well as other NASA astronauts who lost their lives while furthering the cause of exploration and discovery, during the agency’s Day of Remembrance on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Red Huber)


West Hawaii Today

Today, Jan. 28, 2015, marks the 29th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986 that claimed the life of Kona native Ellison S. Onizuka and six other American astronauts.

On that fateful day, the astronauts launched at 11:39 a.m. from Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla. Seventy-three seconds later, the shuttle exploded claiming the lives of all seven aboard. It was later determined that two rubber O-rings, which had been designed to separate the sections of the rocket booster, had failed because of cold temperatures during the morning.

Onizuka was born on June 24, 1946, in Kealakekua, according to Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Memorial. He graduated from Konawaena High School in 1964 and attended the University of Colorado, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering in 1968, and a Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering in 1969. He joined the United States Air Force in January 1970, and attended the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California in August 1974.

Onizuka was selected in 1978 as one of 35 astronauts for NASA’s Space Shuttle Program. On Jan. 24, 1985, Onizuka first successfully entered space as a mission specialist aboard the space shuttle Discovery.

He was the first Japanese American selected to participate in America’s space program and the first Asian astronaut to venture into space, according to the memorial.

Soon after, Ellison was selected for the ill-fated Challenger flight.

In addition to a scholarship, buildings and other memorials named in his honor, the Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Space Center was established by the State of Hawaii after his death. Located at Kona International Airport, the center opened to the public in 1991. It is an educational facility dedicated to Onizuka’s memory.


Ellison S. Onizuka gave this speech to the 1980 graduating class of Konawaena High School:

If I can impress upon you only one idea … Let it be that the people who make this world run, whose lives can be termed successful, whose names will go down in the history books, are not the cynics, the critics, or the armchair quarterbacks.

They are the adventurists, the explorers, and doers of this world. When they see a wrong or problem, they do something about it. When they see a vacant place in our knowledge, they work to fill that void.

Rather than leaning back and criticizing how things are, they work to make things the way they should be. They are the aggressive, the self-starters, the innovative, and the imaginative of this world.

Every generation has the obligation to free men’s minds for a look at new worlds … to look out from a higher plateau than the last generation.

Your vision is not limited by what your eye can see, but by what your mind can imagine. Many things that you take for granted were considered unrealistic dreams by previous generations. If you accept these past accomplishments as commonplace then think of the new horizons that you can explore.

From your vantage point, your education and imagination will carry you to places which we won’t believe possible.

Make your life count – and the world will be a better place because you tried.

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