Ellison Onizuka

Mission Specialist

Ellison S. Onizuka was born in Kealakekua, Kona, Hawaii, on June 24, 1946. In 1969, he received B.S. and M.S. degrees in engineering from the University of Colorado, where he participated in the Air Force R.O.T.C. program, leading to a commission in 1970. While attending the university, he married Lorna Leido Yoshida, and the couple eventually had two children.

Onizuka served on active duty with the Air Force in the early 1970s as an aerospace flight test engineer at the Sacramento Air Logistics Center. After July 1975, he was assigned to the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California, as a squadron flight test officer and later as chief of the engineering support section. 

In January 1978, Onizuka was selected as a NASA astronaut. He became the first Asian American and the first person of Japanese ancestry to reach space. Since he was an Air Force officer on detatched duty with NASA, Onizuka served on the first dedicated Department of Defense classified mission as Mission Specialist on Discovery STS-51-C. In 1986, Onizuka was selected as one of three Mission Specialists on the fated Challenger 51-L crew. This flight was his second shuttle mission.

Onizuka’s widow, Lorna Onizuka, was a Founding Director of Challenger Center and continues to serve on the Advisory Council.