The 26th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and Hawaii's Lt. Col. Onizuka (Video)

26 years later Hawaii still remembers Lt. Colonel Ellison Onizuka and the Space Shuttle Challenger. Photo: NASA

HAWAII, January 28, 2012―A nation remembers and mourns the 26th anniversary of the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger and its crew today. On January 28, 1986 at 11:38 am, the Challenger broke apart and its crew was lost to the heavens when an O-ring on its right SRB rocket booster broke, leading to a fuel tank rupture and a catastrophic explosion.

Lieutenant Colonel Ellison Onizuka, a 39-year old Air Force test pilot and NASA astronaut who was born in Kealakekua, Hawaii was among the brave crew of Challenger mission STS-51-L, and will always be remembered by locals as Hawaii’s Astronaut. Spirit still among the stars but body laid to rest in Hawaii’s Punchbowl National Cemetery, Onizuka’s grave stone still attracts homage from visitors and provokes tears and sharp salutes alike.

Onizuka is credited with having said, “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.” At the time when the Shuttle Challenger exploded, I was six years old and watching the event live on television. It was a memory that even at that young age I understood the full implications of - my own father being an Air Force officer - and one of many moments of my life that has humbled me to respect those who bravely serve our country and inspired me to always look heavenward.

Three days after that great disaster, in laying the crew of the Challenger to rest, Ronald Reagan said something that I will never forget and find stirring tears even to this day, nearly three decades later:

“Sometimes, when we reach for the stars, we fall short. But we must pick ourselves up again and press on despite the pain. Our nation is indeed fortunate that we can still draw on immense reservoirs of courage, character and fortitude – that we are still blessed with heroes like those of the Space Shuttle Challenger.”

I believe that today we can best honor the memory of Colonel Onizuka and the crew of the Challenger by remembering Reagan’s challenge to pick ourselves up again and press on for a better tomorrow - despite what may appear to be a bad economy, despite what looks like the decline of America, despite whatever shortcomings and mistakes we have made, without assigning guilt or blame - for as the Bible tells us, “all fall short of the glory of God.”

I believe we can take this moment of remembrance to inspire us to restore America, to set aside our differences which from the heavens looking down are but small and light things and to once again reach for the stars. Previous generations touched the heavens with rockets and missiles, but this generation must reach for God’s domain with a new era of American innovation, scientific discovery and most of all, honor.

I thank the family and friends of Colonel Onizuka and the entire crew of the Challenger for laying down a great sacrifice upon the altar of freedom and scientific discovery and as a child of the 1980s, I for one pledge to always remember January 28, 1986 with my life and service to my fellow man.

Also read: 

The final flight of the Space Shuttle and the people who made it special


Danny de Gracia is a political scientist, an ordained minister and a former senior adviser to two committee chairs of the Hawaii State House of Representatives. He currently lives in Hawaii.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Danny de Gracia

Dr. Danny de Gracia is a political scientist and a former senior adviser to the Human Services and International Affairs committees at the Hawaii State Legislature. From 2011-2013 he served as an elected municipal board member in Waipahu. As an expert in international relations theory, military policy, political psychology and economics, Danny has advised numerous policymakers and elected officials and his opinions have been featured worldwide. Now working on his first novel, Danny resides on the island of Oahu.

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