Kona Astronaut Ellison Onizuka’s legacy lives on at Japanese Cultural Center

Dedicate for new tribute to Hawaii's first astronaut
Updated: Jun. 24, 2017 at 3:27 PM HST
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By Kimi Andrew and Victoria Cuba
HNN Summer Interns

MOILIILI (HawaiiNewsNow) - A year after the Ellison Onizuka Space Center closed its doors in Kona, the country's first Asian-American astronaut's legacy lives on through a new exhibit in Moilili.

Items on display at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii (JCCH) include a genuine moon rock, Onizuka's flight jacket and other memorabilia.

"Ellison's story is so much a part of our history as Japanese in Hawaii," said Carole Hayashino, President and Executive Director of the JCCH. "Ellison grew up with humble beginnings, a small country town in Kona, and he exceeded everyone's expectations."

More than a hundred of Onizuka's close family, friends and honorable guests were invited to a private blessing ceremony for the exhibit Saturday on what would have been his 71st birthday.

Onizuka died during the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986.

His brother, Claude, said that even as a high school student in the Boy Scouts, Onizuka knew he wanted to go into space.

"That was his dream and he died doing what he wanted to," Claude said. "And he did everything up to the best of his ability until the very end."

He also said his brother often acknowledged those who helped him launch his space career.

"He always credited people that helped him," Claude said. "And he never forgot them when he came back to Hawaii."

Esteemed NASA Astronaut Col. Michael Fincke, who formerly held the American record for longest time spent in space, noted Onizuka's impact on future generations.

"We do our best to share what Ellison would have done, to inspire the next generation of explorers," Col. Fincke said. "To tell all the keiki out there that they can be anything they want."

Onizuka's family said they are grateful the exhibit keeps his memory alive.

"We're trying to carry on his legacy," Claude said. "It's been 31 years, but the memory is still there."

The exhibit will be open to the public starting Monday, June 26 as part of the JCCH Okage Sama De exhibit. Admission is at $10 per person. For more information, click here.

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