The First Asian American in Space
Ellison Shoji Onizuka was the first Asian American and the first person of Japanese ancestry to reach space. He received an undergraduate and graduate degree in aerospace engineering in quick succession and then entered the US Air Force. There, he served as a flight test engineer and test pilot and attended the US Air Force Test Pilot School. He eventually became the squadron flight test engineer and became manager for engineering support. Within eight years of his entering the school, he was selected for the astronaut program and completed a year of evaluation and training by August 1979.
In 1985, Ellison took his first space mission aboard the Discovery shuttle. Upon his return, they assigned him to the ill-fated Challenger. It launched on January 28, 1986. Sadly, a flame jet leaking from a solid rocket booster destroyed the hydrogen fuel tank. Just moments after the launch, the rocket exploded. The blast killed all seven crew members, Ellison among them. They buried him at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. NASA posthumously promoted him to colonel. He is survived by his two daughters, Janelle Onizuka-Gillilan and Darien Lei Shizue Onizuka-Morgan, and their families.