Naming an Airport in Hawai’i helps promote a native son STEM role model

Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport
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Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport

Honoring Challenger Astronaut Who Grew Up In Kealakekua
& Increasing STEM Visibility

“Role model”, as a term, has become a bit of a cliché; too often, the individuals anointed for this “sainthood” are all too human. This is not that sort of case.

The inventory of individuals, who would attract individuals to study STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), has too few deserving candidates. This will add to that list.

How many people have looked at the name of an airport and wondered who O’Hare, Logan, Bradley, TF Green, Heathrow, La Guardia, etc. was? The addition of a name as the prefix to the airport at Kona, HI should help.

Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport

The State of Hawai’i has identified a native son

  • who should serve as a great role model
  • whose elevation may attract youngsters from the 50th State,
  • who is likely to impact students of Asian-American background as well as many who may seek a career in STEM.

Hawai‘i Island’s Kona International Airport has officially been changed to Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole, in honor of the Challenger astronaut who grew up in Kealakekua.

This future astronaut, the 1st Asian American to enter space, was born June 24, 1946 Kealakekua in rural Kona on the Big Island of Hawai’i, Onizuka was a Buddhist. Ellison was an active participant in Future Farmers of America. 4-H, and the Boy Scouts. Not just your average, ordinary Boy Scout, the young man earned the highest rank, an Eagle Scout.

From Konawaena High School (1964),  he matriculated to University of Colorado at Boulder where he simultaneously received a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering and a Master of Science degree. His participation in Air Force ROTC, he moved into a career with that service and his initial billets were as a flight test engineer and a test pilot.

At the Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California, he worked on numerous experimental military aircraft.

Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport

In 1978, he was selected to be an astronaut, part of the first new group of astronauts to be selected in nearly a decade. He would be selected for his first mission — a secretive space flight to launch a payload from the Department of Defense — seven years later.

Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport

Finally, Onizuka was assigned to the mission STS 51-L on the Space Shuttle Challenger that took off from Kennedy Space Center on January 28, 1986. His fellow crew members were commander Dick Scobee, pilot Michael J. Smith, mission specialists Ronald McNairJudith Resnik, and payload specialists Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe. It was destroyed when a leaking solid rocket booster ruptured the fuel tank 73 seconds after launch. All seven crew members were killed.

Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport

A Buddhist shrine for Ellison Onizuka and the Challenger crew at the 2011 Onizuka Space Science Day at El Camino College in California

Now, the 20,000,000 passengers of KOA will be made aware of Ellison Onizuka and that increased visibility might well bring new candidates to STEM programs.

 


Name Change for Kona International Airport
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