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Challenger Astronaut Onizuka Remembered

(Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Memorial Board)

The Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Memorial Committee placed a wreath at the Onizuka memorial in Little Tokyo’s Weller Court on the 32nd anniversary of the Challenger disaster, which took the lives of Onizuka and his six crewmates.

On Jan. 28, 1986, the space shuttle’s external fuel tank erupted at 40,000 feet, 73 seconds after launch.

Onizuka, 39, an Air Force lieutenant colonel and the first Asian American astronaut, had flown a successful mission aboard the shuttle Discovery in 1985. In addition to the former Weller Street in Little Tokyo, places that were named in his honor include an Air Force station in Sunnyvale, a space center at Kona International Airport, an asteroid and a crater on the moon.

He is remembered each year in his native Hawaii and at his alma mater, University of Colorado Boulder.

The memorial committee will present the 31st Onizuka Space Science Day on Saturday, March 10, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at El Camino College, 16007 Crenshaw Blvd. in Torrance. Co-sponsored by the college and American Honda Motor Co. Inc., this free event is for science students in Grades 5 through 12. It will feature presentations by an astronaut and guests from JPL and other institutions; hands-on science activities and experiments; free lunch for the first 800 students; and an egg-drop competition. For more information, call (310) 660-3487 or email

On the last Thursday in January, NASA pays tribute to the crews of Apollo 1 (Jan. 27, 1967) and the shuttles Challenger and Columbia (Feb. 1, 2003) as well as other colleagues who died while furthering the cause of exploration and discovery.

This year, Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot and other agency senior officials led an observance at Arlington National Cemetery on Jan. 25 while another memorial was held at Kennedy Space Center, where the “Forever Remembered” exhibit features personal belongings of the fallen astronauts, including Onizuka’s Buddhist prayer beads.

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