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Talk at UH draws inspiration from the lives of 2 astronauts

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    The state House honored Carl McNair, center, and Claude Onizuka, brothers of astronauts Ronald McNair and Ellison Onizuka, with proclamations Tuesday at the Capitol. Ron McNair and Ellison Onizuka were killed when the space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986. Joining the two men were McNair Scholar Laurel Pikcunas, left; Carl McNair's wife, Mary; and McNair Scholar Leina'ala Bright.

The brothers of the late astronauts Ronald McNair and Ellison Oni­zuka will speak Thursday at the University of Hawaii at Manoa to inspire students and the community.

Carl McNair of Atlanta and Claude Oni­zuka of Kona will talk about their brothers, who were part of a seven-member crew killed in the January 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.

"It’s my mission, as it has been with Claude, to utilize their stories to inspire others," Carl McNair said.

The free event, hosted by the University of Hawaii McNair Student Achievement Program, will be held at the Architecture Auditorium. A reception at 5:30 p.m. will be followed by a lecture at 6:30 p.m.

Ronald McNair and Ellison Oni­zuka each came from humble beginnings, working in cucumber fields and coffee fields, respectively, during childhood, their brothers said. Both men made their dreams of becoming an astronaut a reality.

McNair, of Lake City, S.C., became the second African-American astronaut. He had a calm approach and stood by his principles at an early age, Carl McNair said. During the civil rights movement, Ronald McNair, then 9, refused to leave the Lake City Public Library without two books after a librarian did not allow him to check them out because the library was off-limits to African-Americans.

As an undergraduate at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, a counselor encouraged him to stick to his physics courses during a time he felt overwhelmed, according to a NASA website. McNair persevered, obtaining a doctorate in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The McNair Student Achievement Program, established at 201 universities nationwide and in Puerto Rico, tries to provide the same encouragement to students. The program was established at UH in 2009 through a four-year, $220,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to support students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, according to program director Maile Goo. The program provides support to undergraduate students in their junior year to prepare them for graduate and doctoral degree work.

McNair and Onizuka were good friends and enjoyed sharing their experiences with students and inspiring youth.

Onizuka, of Kealakekua, was the first Asian-American astronaut. His younger brother, Claude, chairman of the Oni­zuka Memorial Committee, said Ellison always was interested in flying. He attended the University of Colo­rado on an Air Force scholarship and obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering.

Onizuka loved to go to schools and organizations and share his knowledge about space, and that is what the memorial committee is continuing, Claude Oni­zuka said.

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