Brother honors astronaut's memory

Ellison Onizuka
Ellison Onizuka
Claude Onizuka, brother of Ellison
Claude Onizuka, brother of Ellison
Logan Matsuoka, nephew of Ellison
Logan Matsuoka, nephew of Ellison

By Jim Mendoza - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Video from Jan. 28, 1986 shows Hawaii astronaut Ellison Onizuka and his Challenger crew mates smiling as they walked briskly to the craft's cabin.

One minute and thirteen seconds into the flight the space shuttle exploded, killing all seven on board.

Onizuka's brother, Claude, stills feels the sting.

"In time everything heals. But there's still a little bit of hurt," he said.

With the help of NASA astronauts like Daniel Tani, Claude Onizuka has turned tragedy into a teaching tool.

He said Ellison wanted to share his NASA experience with Hawaii's youngsters. So he's doing it.

"Hopefully, we can inspire some of the students maybe not to become an astronaut but become an engineer, a scientist, or to study math and science," he said.

Over the 25 years since the shuttle accident thousands of students have learned about outer space through down-to-earth talks about the Challenger disaster and Onizuka's place in space history.

Onizuka's nephew was in the audience at a Thursday assembly at Kaimuki Middle School.

"I didn't know him. I wasn't alive so I couldn't take pictures. I only have the few that I could get," twelve-year-old Logan Matsuoka said.

NASA selected Onizuka as an astronaut candidate in 1978.

In January of 1985 he orbited the earth 48 times.  The first Japanese-American astronaut broke a barrier.

"It made me think it's more possible for me to become an astronaut," Tani said. "Back when I was these children's age, all the astronauts were Caucasian men."

Claude Onizuka said since Challenger, space programs have taken off and space travel has become safer.

"We have to be thankful that Ellison and the other six astronauts died doing what they wanted to do. They lived their dream," he said.

Ellison Onizuka was 41 years old when he died but his legacy lives on.

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