CHALLENGER SEVEN STILL STIR HEARTS 20 YEARS LATER
Lorna Onizuka, widow of shuttle astronaut Ellison Onizuka, and Jane Smith Wolcott, widow of shuttle pilot Michael Smith, stood at the base of the Space Mirror Memorial after a remembrance ceremony for Challenger astronauts yesterday at the Kennedy Space Center, in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Big Isle residents celebrate the legacy of Hawaii's fallen astronaut
HILO » Ellison Onizuka always told youngsters to dream big, work hard and go for their goals.
Although none of the students in the University of Hawaii-Hilo auditorium yesterday were born when he died 20 years ago, they understood his quest for knowledge and thirst for adventure.
At least 200 elementary and intermediate students and their parents attended lectures, workshops and demonstrations at the sixth annual Ellison Onizuka Science Day, a fitting tribute to Hawaii's first astronaut.
He was among seven people lost Jan. 28, 1986, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff.
His "Message to Future Generations," which he wrote as a keynote speech for a high school graduation, was read yesterday by Kamehameha Schools student Lauren Inaba.
"Your vision is not limited by what your eye can see, but by what your mind can imagine. Many things that you take for granted were considered unrealistic dreams by previous generations. If you accept these past accomplishments as commonplace, then think of the new horizons that you can explore," Inaba read.
Before the students split into groups to build robots, check out the portable planetarium or learn the wonders of navigation, Claude Onizuka remembered his older brother and the legacy he left.
Onizuka, a 57-year-old retired bank executive, said the annual event would have made his brother happy and proud as he made it a priority to try to inspire Hawaii's youth.
He said this weekend has been emotional for the family -- remembering an Ellison lost and welcoming a new one.
A couple friendly with the family recently asked if they could name their son after the astronaut. Baby Ellison was born Friday in California.
"A lot of good has come out of the accident," he said. "The space program has moved forward. It's much safer now."
Cmdr. Robert Curbeam Jr., a veteran of two shuttle missions, shared some favorite memories from his 593 hours in space during in 1997 and 2001 voyages.
"The Earth is absolutely beautiful from space. Awe-inspiring," Curbeam said. "Then you turn the other way and see stars. Twenty times what you can see from here. And they don't twinkle, which is strange."
Weightlessness is also strange, he said, allowing for some otherworldly acrobatics.
"Watch the Olympics and those (gymnasts and aerial skiers) are outstanding, doing those flips and tumbles," Curbeam said. "In my wildest dreams I can't do any of that, but in space I can beat 'em all."
Kati Lero of Port St. John, Fla., placed a rose in the fence at the Space Mirror Memorial yesterday at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, in Cape Canaveral.
Outside the lecture hall, students and their parents were fired up about all things space and science.
Micah Kealaiki, 11, wandered between exhibition tables, scooping up pamphlets, stickers, fliers and posters.
"I learned about the rover thing that got to capture those space particles and how they all look like snowflakes inside," the Kamehameha Schools student said.
He admitted his favorite subjects are social studies and recess, but he promised to study harder in science classes.
Meanwhile in Cape Canaveral, Fla., 250 people joined a memorial ceremony at Kennedy Space Center yesterday to honor Onizuka, shuttle commander Dick Scobee, pilot Mike Smith, astronauts Judy Resnik, Ron McNair and Greg Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe, who was supposed to be the first teacher in space.
June Scobee Rodgers, the widow of Challenger's commander, laid a wreath of roses and carnations at a memorial honoring fallen astronauts. She recalled waiting for the launch that chilly morning with other family members of the crew, including 12 children.
"Our lives were shattered, but over the years that followed the families persevered with tremendous success," Rodgers said. "I believe those parents launched aboard Challenger would be proud of their children."