Ellison Onizuka

Ellison Onizuka bigraphy, stories - American astronaut from Kealakekua, Kona, Hawaii, first Asian American to reach space, later died in the Space Shuttle Challenger accident

Ellison Onizuka : biography

June 24, 1946 – January 28, 1986

) was an American astronaut from Kealakekua, Kona, Hawaii, who successfully flew into space with the Space Shuttle Discovery on STS-51-C, before losing his life to the destruction of the Space Shuttle Challenger, where he was serving as Mission Specialist for mission STS-51-L. He was the first Asian American to reach space.

Early life

Ellison Onizuka was the oldest son and second youngest child of the late Masamitsu and Mitsue Onizuka. He had two older sisters, Shirley and Norma, and a younger brother, Claude. Claude became the family spokesman when Ellison attained fame as an astronaut and continued after the Challenger accident. Growing up, Ellison was an active participant in 4-H and the Boy Scouts, where he reached the level of Eagle Scout.

He graduated from Konawaena High School in Kealakekua in 1964. He received a Bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering in June 1969, and a Master’s in that field in December of the same year, from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He participated in Air Force ROTC during his time there and is an alumnus of Triangle Fraternity.

Onizuka married Lorna Leiko Yoshida on June 7, 1969, while completing his studies at the University of Colorado. They had two daughters, Janelle Onizuka-Gillilan (b. 1969) and Darien Lei Shizue Onizuka-Morgan (b. 1975).

Air Force career

On January 15, 1970, Onizuka entered active duty with the United States Air Force, where he served as a flight test engineer and as a test pilot. At the Sacramento Air Logistics Center at McClellan Air Force Base. He worked in test flight programs and systems security engineering for the F-84, F-100, F-105, F-111, EC-121T, T-33, T-39, T-28, and A-1.

From August 1974 to July 1975, Onizuka attended the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School. In July 1975, he was assigned to the Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California. He became a squadron test flight engineer at the Test Pilot School, and later worked as a manager for engineering support in the training resources division. His duties there were based on the instruction of courses and the management of the airship fleet (A-7, A-37, T-38, F-4, T-33, and NKC-135) being used for the Test Pilot School and Flight Test Center. Onizuka registered more than 1,700 flight hours.


Onizuka Air Force Station in Sunnyvale, California, Onizuka Village family housing on Hickam Air Force Base and the Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Space Center at Kona International Airport in the Kona district of Hawaii island where he was born and raised, are dedicated to him.

Two astronomical features were also named after him: an asteroid discovered by Edward L. G. Bowell on February 8, 1984, 3355 Onizuka and a 29-km-diameter crater on the Moon, Onizuka.

Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, California also has a street named after him, as does the street surrounding Whitcomb Elementary in Clear Lake City, Houston, Texas, where his daughters attended school at the time of the Challenger disaster. The school also named its library the Onizuka Memorial Library. In addition, the Onizuka Street in Little Tokyo has a scale replica of the Space Shuttle Challenger as a memorial.

The Onizuka Center for International Astronomy, named in his honor, is the mid-level support and visitor complex for the Mauna Kea Observatories in Hawai’i. The complex includes a Visitor Information Station as well as dining, lodging, office and maintenance facilities for observatory staff and astronomers. A plaque of Onizuka’s face is mounted on a boulder by the entrance to the Visitor Information Station.

Triangle Fraternity has the Ellison Onizuka Young Alumnus Award in tribute to him.

The Engineering Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder has a conference room named after him.

The Arnold Air Society Squadron attached to the 105th Air Force ROTC Detachment at the University of Colorado at Boulder bears his name.

Page 28 (Page X of additional page inserts) of every new U.S. passport contains this quotation: