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Kona airport space center to close down

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  • Col. Ellison S. Onizuka (Courtesy photo)

KAILUA-KONA » The space center inside the Kona International Airport honoring the life of an astronaut who died decades ago in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster is closing its doors next year.

The Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Space Center is closing at the end of March after 30 years of business, West Hawaii Today reported Thursday.

“In the next few months, people should go visit if they can,” said Rick Asbach, one of the directors of the nonprofit facility. “It would be good if we could get some places in the community to put some of the things on display, rather than putting them in storage and having them sort of melt away.”

The center will be replaced by a new gateway to an airport renovation priced at $70 million.

The state Department of Transportation has offered to construct a new building for the center across the street. But after considering four different sites, the space center’s governing board has decided that they would not be able to afford the higher operational costs of a much larger building. The current facility stands at 2,500 square feet.

Chairman of the board and the astronaut’s brother, Claude Onizuka, said the center has welcomed about 22,000 members of the public each year, including about 8,000 students.

“If I had just one heartfelt wish, it would be that we could continue educating and inspiring youngsters in memory of Ellison and his Challenger crewmates,” said curator Nancy Tashima.

The center features displays of space shuttle missions, lunar landers, videos from inside the International Space Station as well as memorabilia from Onizuka’s own life.

The center will still be open for the 30th anniversary of the Challenger accident, which took the lives of its seven astronauts, on Jan. 28.

“What Ellison had really wanted to do was share his knowledge and dreams,” Onizuka said. “I think the center has done that. But things change, and I think now the time has come for the center to close.”

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  • “What Ellison had really wanted to do was share his knowledge and dreams.” said his brother. Sad that future generations will not benefit. Perhaps some items can be placed on display at the Mauna Kea visitor center. This memorabilia should not end up in storage. Unfortunate.

    • I hope that the Bishop Museum will step forward to display at least some of this. Or the Mauna Kea Center. But if he is not Hawaiian I guess the protesters will trash it all. That is what they love to do

  • That’s ok…..the douche baqs in DC just passed a budget with BILLION$ of dollars to take care of illegal aliens & terrorist refugees. Oh! And they QUADRUPLED the number of foreigners that can come to America & take your job!!! And THAT is MUCH more important that an information center based on an astronaut who died in the service of his country.

    • Thanks Mike! I never knew Hawaii was such a Republican stronghold. But seriously, it may be a waste of words here, but if higher operating costs of a new memorial site couldn’t be met by the governing board, how much was the actual shortfall? Given the publicity now, is it really an amount that couldn’t be made up somewhere, somehow?

  • Here was an opportunity for the State of Hawaii to step up and honor one of it’s native sons; to inspire the future generations to pursue a high-technology and high-risk endeavor; but nooo, the powers-that-be want to replace it with a new gateway to the Kona airport. So much for encouraging the young people to study math and sciences; but oh, our local economy is based on tourism; don’t need math and science for that type of industry. Besides, pursuing math and science related careers would invariably result in moving out of state to the mainland. Let the brain-drain continue. Wonderful (not).

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