Ellison S. Onizuka

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, every school day The Cardinal will feature a prominent and historical Asian American or Pacific Islander, living or dead, who has worked toward change, advancement, and/or world peace. Some of them are heroes, and some are unsung heroes, who deserve recognition, and have made a contribution to society.


Kenia Ortiz, Staff Writer

Ellison S. Onizuka was a Japanese American, born June 24, 1946, in Kealakekua, Hawaii, and grew up with an interest in flying and space travel at a young age from the inspiring astronauts of his time. He was all about exploration, dedication, and courage, always ready for a new experience. Ellison S. Onizuka is a pioneer, a visionary, and a hero who dedicated his life to exploring the unknown and pushing achievement limits.

Staying engaged with his interests leveled him to a bachelor’s and master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado. He joined the U.S. Air Force and became a pilot serving in Vietnam. He eventually joined NASA, where he was appointed a mission specialist on the Space Shuttle Challenger to help conduct experiments and tasks in space. Onizuka became the first Asian American to fly in space on his first space mission that took place on January 24, 1985, with the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery.

Onizuka was killed on his second space mission in 1986 when the Space Shuttle Challenger fell apart and erupted 73 seconds after its grand launch taking the life of all seven group members. Nonetheless, his legacy lives on as a symbol of exploration and the determination to push the boundaries of what is possible with the power of curiosity. He was a trailblazer who helped pave the way for astronauts and engineers of the future to make improvements.  His contributions to the Space Shuttle program expanded human knowledge of the universe and possibilities for human spaceflight.