31 years later, Hawaii remembers its first astronaut

31 years later, Hawaii remembers its first astronaut

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - What would have been the space shuttle Challenger's 10th orbit around the earth ended in 73 seconds.

In a live television broadcast people around the world watched the tragedy unfold at the Kennedy Space Center and among the many left with more questions than answers: Claude Onizuka.

Claude Onizuka made the trip from Kealakekua to Orlando to watch his brother, Ellison, make history as the first Asian-American astronaut but instead he sat in disbelief with a group of others in an observation area about three miles away from the launch site.

On January 28, 1986 Onizuka and six of his fellow NASA astronauts were on board the Challenger when it exploded. An investigation showed cold temperatures compromised the seals in the Challenger's twin rocket boosters.

Thirty years later Governor David Ige memorialized the astronaut with "Ellison Onizuka Day."

For 24 years, kamaaina and visitors to the Kona International Airport were able to get a glimpse into outer space at the Ellison S. Onizuka Space Center but an expansion to the facility closed the museum nearly 10 months ago.

And though the NASA memorabilia has been packed up and Onizuka's personal items stored away, the opportunity to educate Hawaii's next astronaut is still available through annual science day events, fundraising efforts and scholarship programs.

"He always wanted to share his experiences with the children and the people of Hawaii and whoever he came in contact with," said Claude Onizuka in a previous interview. "It was Ellison's legacy."

That same sentiment was echoed by Rob Kelso, executive director of the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems.

"Ellison's idea and goal was never to be the first and the last. His was to set a path forward," Kelso said.

Onizuka was 39-years-old when he died but his quest for knowledge lives on.

Written on the Challenger Center Hawaii's website are the words of Onizuka that quoted in part as, "Your vision is not limited by what your eyes can see, but by what your mind can imagine."

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