A birthday celebration for Hawaii’s first astronaut, the late Ellison Onizuka, and it included a new beginning.
If you recall, the Ellison Onizuka Space Center at Kona airport had to close last year after 24 years, because of renovations. It’s found a new home now and it opened today.
The exhibits are now on permanent display at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii in Moiliili.
They not only feature Onizuka’s personal items, but also the only moon rock in Hawaii and the space suit from Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haines.
On hand for today’s blessing was NASA astronaut Colonel Michael Finke, who spent time on the International Space Station, and former Governor George Ariyoshi.
Governor Ariyoshi had a story about a picture that survived the Challenger disaster.
“Ellison Onizuka came to see me one day, and he wanted the family photo. He wanted to take it up on the Challenger… and he [was] gonna bring it back, inscribe it and autograph it. But that Challenger accident happened, and I felt very sorry to lose Ellison, but I didn’t even think about the photo… after everything else [I thought it] must have been destroyed completely. About two months later, Lorna Onizuka called me and told me that they found in the water. NASA found [the] personal preference kit of Ellison Onizuka, and she said there were two things in there. One was a monk’s prayer, and the other was this family portrait. So I told her, ‘Oh, that must be in terrible condition because the astronauts… the big bang up… and in the ocean water for two months.’ She told me, ‘No, it’s in perfect condition.’ And she said, ‘I’m gonna bring the picture over to you and present it to you.’ And then in the meantime NASA got the picture and put this together for us.”
At the Kona location, nearly eight-thousand students visited the center every year.
Saturday would have been Ellison Onizuka’s 71st birthday.