Remembering Onizuka, McNair 25 Years After Challenger Disaster

Ellison Onizuka and Ronald McNair were among the first astronauts of color to go to space.

By Hatty Lee Jan 28, 2011

Friday marks the 25th anniversary of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster that killed seven astronauts. Among those aboard were Ellison Onizuka and Ronald E. McNair, two of the first astronauts of color to make it to the top of NASA. Hawaiian-born Onizuka was the first Asian American to reach space, while McNair was only the second black astronaut to make the trip before their ill-fated Challenger mission. Both had previously flown aboard Space Shuttle Challenger on separate missions in 1984 and ’85, and Onizuka logged a total of 74 hours in space. A quarter century after the Challenger disaster, the legacies of both men can still be felt. Among many other public honors, there’s the Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Scholars Program that helps low-income, first generation students of color complete Ph.D programs. And fellow astronauts named a crater on the moon after Onizuka. So today, we take a look back at their work, and where both stand in history.

Ronald McNair (Photo: NASA)


Ellison Onizuka (Photo: NASA)

Challenger flight crew training. (Photo: NASA)

Challenger flight crew. (Photo: NASA)

Ellison Onizuka, photo at Ellison Onizuka museum (Photo: Creative Commons/douglemoine)

Challenger flight crew memorial. (Photo: Creative Commons/dbking)