Hawaii marks 30th anniversary of Challenger disaster - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Hawaii marks 30th anniversary of Challenger disaster

Image Source: NASA Image Source: NASA
Image Source: NASA Image Source: NASA
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Thirty years ago Thursday, Big Island-born Ellison Onizuka and six fellow NASA astronauts were on board the space shuttle Challenger when it exploded 73 seconds after liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center.

Onizuka's brother, Claude, saw the tragedy first-hand.

"We were about three miles from the launch site out in an open observation area. When the Challenger blew up, it was almost overhead," he said.

An investigation showed cold temperatures compromised the seals in the Challenger's twin rocket boosters.

Onizuka said when his brother was alive he prepared his family for a worst-case scenario.

"Ellison always told us if anything went wrong, it's like sitting on top of a giant bomb," he said.

Onizuka was the first Asian-American and first Hawaii-born astronaut.

On Thursday, state lawmakers honored Onizuka's memory, and Gov. David Ige declared it "Ellison Onizuka Day."

"Ellison's idea and goal was never to be the first and the last. His was to set a path forward," said Rob Kelso, executive director of the  Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems.

Former Gov. George Ariyoshi was a close friend of Onizuka. The astronaut took a photograph of the Ariyoshi family onto the Challenger. It was recovered after the explosion.

"He inspired so many children in our schools," Ariyoshi said.

The Challenger explosion was broadcast live on television, and on Thursday many recalled seeing the tragedy unfold on their TV sets.

Guenther Hasinger, director of the UH Institute for Astronomy, said the tragedy changed American's view of space flight.

"They didn't recognize and realize how difficult and dangerous the space business still is. Now I think we have a different perception of the risk," he said.

The 30th anniversary comes as the Ellison Onizuka Space Center at the Kona International Airport is shuttering its doors in March.

Claude Onizuka hopes to find another place to display his brother's memorabilia. He also wants to establish a scholarship program.

"We've come to rest with the fact that was Ellison's dream. He died doing what he wanted to do," he said.

Onizuka's grave marker is at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl. He was 39 when he died.

Copyright 2016 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

Powered by Frankly