HILO, Hawaii – The 17th annual Astronaut Ellison Onizuka Science Day was held on Saturday at the University of Hawaii-Hilo.
Students and teachers came out to pay tribute to the legacy of Hawaii’s first astronaut and to the crew of the last flight of the Space Shuttle Challenger.
Saturday marked the 31st anniversary of the Challenger disaster. The space shuttle broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, killing its seven crew members, including Ellison Onizuka.
Onizuka was born and raised in Kealakekua, Kona, and graduated from Konawaena High School in 1964.
Ellison’s brother Claude has kept the event going in Hilo.
“His dream was to share his ideas with the people of Hawaii, the students.” Claude said.
Although the Onizuka Space Center museum in Kona was closed over the past year, Claude says they are fortunate that the governor just recently announced the renaming of the Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole.
“Those things help us carry on Ellison’s legacy,” Claude Onizuka said.
Every year, a NASA astronaut visits Hilo to give a talk during the event, hopefully to “put the spark in just a couple of kids”, Claude says. This year, the students met Kjell Lindgren, who presented the incredible video views seen from his window over Earth during his last space flight.
State Senator Kai Kahele again served as the master of ceremonies for the morning assembly.
“Ellison was my hero,” Kahele said. “I got to meet him at Waiakea Elementary School. Shook his hand. Had a lithograph signed from him that said ‘To Kai, come fly with me’.”
Kahele was one of the millions of kids who watched as the Challenger exploded on January 28, 1986. His science teacher invited his class to come to school early that day to watch the launch live on television.
“To watch that on TV… ignited a fire in me, to do what he did,” Kahele said. He would go on to become an Air Force military pilot, and later, a state senator serving the Hilo district.