Air Force Should Name Facility in Honor of Lt. Col. Ellison Onizuka-An Existing Tribute to the Astronaut Will Disappear After Onizuka Air Force Station is Closed

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”’Editor’s note: U.S. Congressman Ed Case (Hawaii, 2nd District) is urging the U.S. Air Force to name one of its U.S. facilities, possibly one in Hawaii, after Hawaii-born astronaut Lt. Col. Ellison Onizuka because an air station in California that now bears his name is scheduled to be closed as a result of the Pentagon’s base relocation and closure process. Lt. Col. Ellison Onizuka, an Air Force officer and NASA astronaut perished, along with six fellow astronauts, aboard Space Shuttle Challenger on Jan. 28, 1986. Case’s June 29, 2006 request to the Air Force followed what would have been Onizuka’s 60th birthday on June 24 and precedes a July 4th parade honoring him in Hawaii. The text of Case’s letter to Michael W. Wynne, secretary of the Air Force, follows:”’

Dear Secretary Wynne:


I am writing to request that you direct the commencement of action to continue our efforts to memorialize the life and service of Lt. Col. Ellison Onizuka, an Air Force officer and NASA astronaut who perished, along with six fellow astronauts, aboard Space Shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986.

In particular, under the now-final 2005 round of military base closures, Onizuka Air Force Station in Sunnyvale, California will close on or before 2011. It is fitting and appropriate that, well prior to then, the Air Force provide for continuity in remembrance of Lt. Col. Onizuka by renaming another appropriate Air Force facility after him.

By way of background, Ellison Onizuka was the oldest son and second youngest child of the late Masamitsu and Mitsue Onizuka of Keopu, Island of Hawaii in my Second District. Growing up, Ellison was an active participant in 4-H and the Boy Scouts, where he reached the level of Eagle Scout.

He graduated from Konawaena High School in Kealakekua in 1964. He received a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering in June 1969, and a master’s degree in that field in December of the same year from the University of Colorado. He participated in Air Force ROTC during his time at Colorado.

In January 1970, Onizuka entered active duty with the United States Air Force, where he served as a flight test engineer and as a test pilot. At the Sacramento Air Logistics Center at McClellan Air Force Base, he worked in test flight programs and systems security engineering for the F-84, F-100, F-105, F-111, EC-121T, T-33, T-39, T-28, and A-1.

Onizuka was selected for NASA’s astronaut program in January 1978, and completed one year of evaluation and training in August 1979. Later, he worked in the experimentation team, Orbiter test team, and launch support crew at the Kennedy Space Center for the STS-1 and STS-2. At NASA, he worked on the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory (SAIL) test and revision software team. He also collaborated on other technical projects, such as astronaut crew team coordinator.

His first space mission took place on January 24, 1985, with the Kennedy Space Center launch of mission STS 51-C on Space Shuttle Discovery, the first space shuttle mission for the Department of Defense. Onizuka was accompanied by commander Ken Mattingly, pilot Loren Shriver, fellow mission specialist James Buchli, and payload specialist Gary E. Payton. During the mission, Onizuka was responsible for the activities of the primary payloads, which included the unfolding of the Inertial Upper Stage (IUS) surface. After 48 orbits around the earth, Discovery landed at the Kennedy Space Center on January 27, 1985. Onizuka had completed a total of 74 hours in space.

Onizuka was assigned to the mission STS 51-L on the Space Shuttle Challenger that took off from Kennedy Space Center at 11:38:00 AM EST on January 28, 1986. The other Challenger crew members were commander Dick Scobee, pilot Michael J. Smith, mission specialists Ronald McNair and Judith Resnik, and
payload specialists Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe. Challenger was destroyed by aerodynamic stress when rupture of the fuel tank at 73 seconds after launch turned the spacecraft out of proper position. All seven crew members were killed.

The life of Lt. Col. Ellison Onizuka, as a NASA astronaut, Air Force officer, and person, was exemplary, inspirational, and outstanding. During his career, he received the Air Force Commendation Medal, Air Force Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, Air Force Organizational Excellence Award, and National Defense Service Medal. He has also received the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. He is remembered as a true hero to this day in his native Hawaii, where his personal motto is timeless: “Make your life count and the world will be a better place because you tried.”

Built in 1960 on land near Moffett Field, the Air Force’s Sunnyvale installation was originally known as the Air Force Satellite Test Center. It was later renamed the Air Force Satellite Control Facility, and Sunnyvale Air Force Station. In 1986, the base was renamed the Onizuka Air Force Station in honor of Lt. Col. Ellison Onizuka. It is now slated for closure.

I am sure you would agree that Lt. Col. Onizuka’s legacy should continue after the closure of his current namesake installation, and I ask that you commence consideration of an appropriate replacement. I know that this action would be received warmly by Mrs. Lorna Onizuka, widow of Lt. Col. Onizuka, with whom my office communicated on this matter during the BRAC process, as well as all who remember Lt. Col. Ellison Onizuka. And I am equally sure that the people of Hawaii would warmly welcome your consideration of an Air Force facility in Hawaii for this high honor.

Thank you very much, and I look forward to working with you to find the appropriate venue to continue to memorialize one of Hawaii’s and our country’s finest. Please don’t hesitate to contact me or Christopher Abbott on my staff as you consider my request.

With aloha,


United States Congressman

Hawaii, Second District

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