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Community Remembers Onizuka on Challenger Anniversary

January 29, 2016, 9:43 AM HST (Updated January 29, 2016, 9:43 AM)
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Rob Kelso, PISCES Executive Director, with several students Thursday as they investigate the new space shuttle flight simulator at Kea'au High School. PISCES courtesy photo.

Rob Kelso, PISCES Executive Director, with several students Thursday as they investigate the new space shuttle flight simulator at Kea’au High School. PISCES courtesy photo.

Thirty years may have passed since the NASA Space Shuttle orbiter Challenger mission, but students at Kea’au High School and community members, along with the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems, celebrated NASA astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka with fresh recall on Thursday.

Onizuka was the first astronaut from Hawai’i, as well as the first Asian American and first of Japanese ancestry to reach space. He was aboard the Challenger, which exploded 73 seconds after liftoff.

A Remembrance Day Ceremony was held at KHS as a way to pay homage to Onizuka on the 30th anniversary of the disaster.

Keaau High School students gather to be recognized during the PISCES Remembrance Day Event and Unveiling Ceremony at Kea'au High School on Jan. 28. PISCES courtesy photo.

Keaau High School students gather to be recognized during the PISCES Remembrance Day Event and Unveiling Ceremony at Kea’au High School on Jan. 28. PISCES courtesy photo.

PISCES’ Executive Director Rob Kelso, who considered Onizuka a “dear friend,” spoke to the crowd recalling the event 30-years prior, as well as the lare astronaut himself.

The ceremony also included a presentation of a county proclamation by Hawai’i County Mayor Billy Kenoi, declaring Jan. 28, 2016 Ellison S. Onizuka Day in Hawai’i County.

Following the ceremony, students from KHS’ Automotive Program and Hawai’i Community College’s Construction Academy at Keaa’u unveiled their recently reconstructed Space Shuttle Flight Deck Mock-Up and flight simulator, named Kaho‘omakahou, or “the New Beginning.”

More than four months of effort went into the construction of the flight deck, made from a restored space shuttle replica.

The recently reconstructed Space Shuttle Flight Deck Mock-Up at Kea'au High School. PISCES courtesy photo.

The recently reconstructed Space Shuttle Flight Deck Mock-Up at Kea’au High School. PISCES courtesy photo.

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“The space shuttle project, which was possible through our community partners, is something that not only our island, but also our state, can be proud of,” said KHS Principal Dean Cevallos. “Our students’ talents and abilities are really highlighted in this reconstruction and show how much they have matured and grown.”

Jagger Lange, a junior at KHS, said that the support from the community was vital to the completion of the project..

“I’d like to give a very special thanks to Mr. Grant Kaaua and Hawai’i Community College Construction Academy for giving us this wonderful experience and opportunity to make history, also for putting endless amounts of hours into this restoration.”

Thursday’s event also included presentations from Will Okabe, Governor David Ige’s liason, Buddhist Minister Byran Siebuhr from Honpa Hongwanji Hilo Betsuin, a presentation of colors from the 291st Combat Communications Squadron, the KHS band, and Taiko drummers.

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