Space center honoring Hawaii astronaut to close

Space center honoring Hawaii astronaut to close

KAILUA-KONA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - For 24 years, the astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Space Center has offered students and travelers a glimpse into outer space -- and a look into the life of the first Asian-American astronaut.

"It was Ellison's legacy. He always wanted to share his experiences with the children and the people of Hawaii and whoever he came in contact with and that was what the facility was," said Claude Onizuka, the astronaut's brother.

But an expansion at Kona International Airport means thousands of students will lose out on a chance to learn first hand about both subjects.

The space center will close at the end of March.

Ellison Onizuka, born and raised on the Big Island, died in 1986 aboard the shuttle Challenger when it exploded 73 seconds into its flight.

Onizuka's brother says the museum could afford the current lease at the airport. But the new facility being offered by the state Department of Transportation is much larger and too expensive.

At the end of March, items on loan from NASA, including the only moon rock in the state, will be returned and all of the exhibits and memorabilia packed up.

"A lot of it will be put into storage.  Personal items, we will store in a different location," he said.

Onizuka says he hasn't ruled out the idea of moving some of the items to another place on island where people can still visit.

"It may be one place or maybe a couple places that we can put up displays if we come across the right location," said Onizuka.

For now Onizuka says he's grateful to everyone who's paid the museum a visit over the last quarter century.

"We would like to thank the people of Hawaii and the community, the students, everyone who supported us this last 24 and a half years and helped us keep Ellison's dream alive," Onizuka said.

The memorial committee that runs the center will remain operational and continue science day events, fundraising efforts and scholarship programs.

Copyright 2015 Hawaii News Now.  All rights reserved.