Northrop Grumman has named its NG-16 Cygnus spacecraft, which will deliver cargo to the International Space Station, after NASA astronaut Ellison Onizuka.

“It is our tradition to name each Cygnus spacecraft after a pioneer of human spaceflight,” said Kendell Nii, a program manager for Northrop Grumman Space Systems, in a video accompanying the announcement. “As we prepare for our next mission to the International Space Station, I am proud to announce that the NG-16 Cygnus spacecraft will be named in honor of Ellison Onizuka, the first Asian astronaut to reach space.

The S.S. Ellison Onizuka, an NG-16 spacecraft, will carry cargo to the International Space Station.

“As someone who shares his heritage, I’m inspired by Ellison as a role model for our community and for the multiple generations who’ll explore new horizons.”

Nii quoted Onizuka as saying, “Every generation has the obligation to free men’s minds for a look at new worlds to look out from a higher plateau than the last generation.”

Onizuka was born in Kealakekua, Kona, Hawaii on June 24, 1946. He received a bachelor’s and master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado. While studying at Colorado, he was a member of the U.S. Air Force ROTC.

After completing his education, Onizuka continued his Air Force career as a flight test engineer and test pilot at McClellan Air Force Base in California. He later trained at the Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, and later led engineering support for the training resources division. Onizuka logged more than 1,700 flight hours during his time at the flight school.

His NASA career began in January 1978, when he was selected for the astronaut program. Completing his training in August 1979, Onizuka went on to work on orbiter test and checkout teams, as well as launch support crews at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. He later worked on the software test and checkout crew at the Shuttle Avionics and Integration Laboratory, and held supporting roles as an astronaut crew equipment/orbiter crew equipment coordinator. He also worked on systems and payload development.

Ellison Onizuka

Onizuka’s first spaceflight experience came on Jan. 24, 1985, when he flew as a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery for STS 51-C — the first space shuttle mission for the Department of Defense. During this mission he was responsible for primary payload activities, and the STS 51-C crew completed 48 orbits of the Earth. By the time the flight had been completed, Onizuka logged 74 hours in space.

Onizuka, who spent nearly his entire life flying in air and in space, lost his life during the STS 51-L mission when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch on Jan. 28, 1986. He made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the space program, and his legacy lives on in his fellow astronauts and all who he has inspired and taught to fly.

According to, the S.S. Ellison Onizuka will deliver approximately 8,200 pounds (3,700 kg.) of supplies and research equipment for the Expedition 65 crew aboard the space station. The Cygnus freighter will be launched atop a Northrop Grumman Antares 230+ rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Liftoff is scheduled for Aug. 10.

The S.S. Ellison Onizuka is the first Cygnus spacecraft to be named for a member of the fallen STS-51L crew. Other namesakes have included former company executive J.R. Thompson, U.S. Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory candidate Robert Lawrence and NASA astronauts David Low, Gordon Fullerton, Janice Voss, Deke Slayton, Rick Husband, Alan Poindexter, John Glenn, Gene Cernan, John Young, Roger Chaffee and Alan Bean.

The most recent Cygnus, which launched in February 2021 and deorbited in July, was named the S.S. Katherine Johnson after the mathematician whose work as a “human computer” helped send the first Americans into orbit, as depicted in the movie “Hidden Figures.”

“I was very excited and feel that it is a great tribute to Ellison and all of his hard work and dedication to the space program,” Onizuka’s sister Shirley Matsuoka said upon hearing the news from Northrup Grumman.

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