Col Ellison S. Onizuka was born on 24 June 1946 in Kealakekua, Kona, Hawaii, a rural community that hindered none of his ambitious, astronomical dreams.
During high school, he was a dedicated member of the 4-H Club, student council, National Honor Society, yearbook club, varsity basketball and baseball, and the Boy Scouts; he graduated with Honors from Konawaena High School in 1964.
Onizuka attended the University of Colorado Boulder and earned a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering in 1969. His professors praised him as “an excellent student and a natural leader in everything he did.” He commissioned into the Air Force in 1970 through CU’s Air Force ROTC program as a distinguished military graduate. As a cadet, he was a member of the Arnold Air Society.
As an aerospace flight test engineer for the Air Force, Onizuka participated in flight test programs for nine different aircraft. He was selected to attend the Air Force Test Pilot School in 1974, where he received instruction on six different aircraft and logged over 1,700 hours of flight time. During his career, he earned several awards, including the Air Force Commendation Medal and the Air Force Meritorious Service Medal.
Against large competition (over 8,000 applicants), Onizuka was selected in 1978 as one of NASA’s Astronauts for the Space Shuttle Program - the first Asian-American ever selected. On 24 January 1985, he became the first Asian-American to explore space when he flew aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.
Soon after, Onizuka was selected for the Challenger flight 51-L, along with 6 other crew members who were carefully selected to represent America’s spirit of exploration. On 28 January 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger lifted from Earth; it exploded 73 seconds after liftoff, tragically ending the lives of seven ambitious, courageous Americans.