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A Museum Dedicated to Hawai‘i’s First Astronaut Shuts Down This Month

You have until March 31 to visit the museum.


Thirty years after the tragic explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, the Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Space Center will close at the end of this month to make way for airport renovations.


The center welcomes more than 20,000 visitors annually—8,000 of them students—according to museum curator Nancy Tashima. 


For 24 years, the center focused on science education and history through interactive displays that include a space suit and a moon rock.


The center now resides in a tall white building near the flagpoles at Kona International Airport but a $70 million renovation project by the state Department of Transportation is taking over that space.


Onizuka is fondly remembered as a local hero: the first astronaut from Hawai‘i, the first Asian-American astronaut, an aerospace engineer from Holualoa.


Brother Claude Onizuka says the alternate location offered by the state was too big for the not-for-profit center to run. “The overall expense would have been too high,” he says.


Visitors will be able to take a last look until March 31 when the center closes to the public. Tashima says it will take another month to pack up: “We workers will be in here, packing, sorting and crying.”


Onizuka Space Center, Kona International Airport, 808-329-3441




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Honolulu Magazine September 2018
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