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Kona’s Onizuka, Other Fallen Astronauts to be Honored

Posted January 28, 2013, 01:19 PM HST
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Lt. Col. Ellison Onizuka. NASA photo.

NASA will hold a Day of Remembrance on Friday, Feb. 1, for astronauts who lost their lives in the line of duty, the agency announced today.

Kona’s Ellison Onizuka, who died in the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, will be among those honored. Today is the 27th anniversary of that tragedy.

Flags across the agency will be flown in half-staff in the memory of the crews of the Challenger, Columbia and Apollo 1, NASA officials said. The tribute is being held on the 10th anniversary of the Columbia accident.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and other NASA senior officials will hold an observance at the astronaut memorial at Arlington National Cemetery Friday morning.

NASA Television will provide live coverage at 5 a.m. Hawaii time of a wreath-laying ceremony at the Space Mirror Memorial located in the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. The observance is hosted by the Astronauts Memorial Foundation.

The Astronauts Memorial Foundation is a private, not-for-profit organization which built and maintains the Space Mirror Memorial. The mirror was dedicated in 1991 to honor all astronauts who lost their lives on missions or during training. It has been designated a National Memorial by Congress.

Onizuka is shown during training. NASA photo.

Onizuka is shown during training. NASA photo.

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Onizuka and six other members of the Challenger crew died 73 seconds into the Jan. 28, 1986 launch after a booster engine failed and the shuttle broke apart.

Onizuka  joined the Air Force in 1970 and became a test pilot, eventually reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel. Born in Kealakekua in 1946, Onizuka  joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 1978.

The 1986 launch was Onizuka’s second shuttle mission.

The seven-member crew of the shuttle Columbia died 16 minutes before landing on Feb. 1, 2003. A piece of foam that had fallen from the external fuel tank at launch had pierced one of the shuttle’s wings, causing the orbiter to break up upon re-entry.

The Apollo 1 tragedy occurred on Jan. 27, 1967, when a fire broke out in the Apollo capsule as it sat atop the launch pad for a pre-launch test. Veteran astronaut Gus Grissom, first American spacewalker Ed White and rookie Roger Chafee died in the fire.

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