Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Air Force Veteran Ellison Onizuka, the first Asian American to fly in space who later died on the space shuttle Challenger.
Ellison Onizuka was born June 24, 1946, in Kealakekua, Kona, Hawaii. He graduated from Konawaena High School and earned his bachelor’s and master of science degrees in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado.
After receiving his commission, Onizuka entered active duty with the Air Force in January 1970. As an aerospace flight test engineer with the Sacramento Air Logistics Center at McClellan Air Force Base, California, he participated in numerous flight test programs.
He attended the Air Force Test Pilot School from August 1974 to July 1975 and logged more than 1,700 hours flying time. He then served with the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California, as a flight test engineer and later as chief of the engineering support section.
Selected for the astronaut program in January 1978, Onizuka completed one year of evaluation and training. He worked on the experimentation team, the orbiter test team, and the launch support crew at Kennedy Space Center. At NASA, he worked at the Shuttle Avionics and Integrated Laboratory with the test and revision software team and achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel.
Onizuka’s first space mission took place on Jan. 24, 1985. He served as a mission specialist. After 48 orbits around the Earth, the space shuttle Discovery landed at Kennedy Space Center on Jan. 27, 1985. Onizuka had completed 74 hours in space, the first Asian American to fly in space.
He was assigned to the space shuttle Challenger that took off from Kennedy Space Center on the morning of Jan. 28, 1986. The shuttle exploded 73 seconds after launch when a flame jet leaking from a solid rocket booster ruptured the liquid hydrogen fuel tank. All seven crew members died.
Onizuka is interred at the National Memorial of the Pacific in Hawaii, Section D, Site 1.
We honor his service.
As it did last year, this year National Cemetery Administration is collaborating with Carry The Load for Memorial Day to honor fallen Veterans. Both NCA and Carry The Load are honoring select “Veterans of the Day” with remembrances on social media during May.
Do you want to light up the face of a special Veteran? Have you been wondering how to tell your Veteran they are special to you? VA’s #VeteranOfTheDay social media feature is an opportunity to highlight your Veteran and his/her service.
It’s easy to nominate a Veteran. Visit our blog post about nominating to learn how to create the best submission.
Graphic artist: Steve Ellmore