Ellison Onizuka was the first Asian American to fly in space. He was a member of NASA’s Astronaut Class of 1978, also known as the Thirty-Five New Guys, the first astronaut class in nearly a decade and also the first to include women, Hispanics and Asian and African Americans.
Before becoming an astronaut, Colonel Onizuka had a distinguished career with the United States Air Force, where he served as a flight test engineer and as a test pilot. At the Sacramento Air Logistics Center at McClellan Air Force Base, he worked in test flight programs and systems security engineering for a variety of aircraft, including the F-84, F-100, F-105, F-111 and A-1. Onizuka also attended the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School. While at the school, he registered more than 1,700 flight hours. After joining NASA and completing astronaut training, Onizuka’s first space mission was aboard Space Shuttle Discovery on mission STS-51-C in 1985.
On January 28, 1986, Onizuka lost his life when Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch.