Saturday, October 20, 2007

Onizuka Street, Little Tokyo

Someone asked me the other day, "Who was Ellison Onizuka?" If you walk around Little Tokyo, you'll see a "Space Shuttle" memorial to Ellison Shoji Onizuka on a street also named after him.

It's rare to see monument for an aerospace engineer, especially for someone from Kona, Hawai'i, and Japanese American too! He was a USAF test pilot and a NASA astronaut -- a mission specialist on the tragic 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

I grew up in a small town in Ohio. As kids of the "space age", we also looked up at the night sky, and dreamed of going to the stars. From the field behind our house, we launched model rockets made of cardboard tubes; stabilized by balsa wood fins. Some of the rockets were our own design. Some carried "astronaut" insects inside them.

We had many successful flights, but one rocket burned up on the launch pad. Another one crashed when one of the engines (of a two-engine model) failed to ignite -- causing the rocket to go off at an angle. The technology in a Space Shuttle, of course, is more refined, but I would say that it's still a risky venture when you have so much explosive energy beneath you.

So who was Ellison S. Onizuka? His astronaut bio is on the NASA website, but he was a grandson of farmers and the son of grocers. I feel that it's his idealism, though, that makes him a hero. He was a dreamer, and a person who reminds us that the future can hold many wonderful opportunities to change our world. It's an immigrant's dream, a computer engineer vision, or a social worker's aspiration.

I found a few of his quotations:

"Your vision is not limited by what your eye can see, but by what your mind can imagine." - Ellison Onizuka, 1980

"Make your life count -- and the world will be a better place because you tried." - Ellison Onizuka, Message to Konawaena High School, 1980

"Every generation has the obligation to free men's minds for a look at new worlds... to look out from a higher plateau than the last generation." - Ellison Onizuka, Page 28 of the US passport

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