If there was one thing that Ellison S. Onizuka had faith in, it was the space shuttle.
He told groups on visits home to Hawaii that the shuttle demonstrated America's "can do anything" expertise and that the United States was "second to none" in space exploration.
He had dreamed of flying aboard one of the shuttles for so long, "I still pinch myself to convince myself that the dream came true," he said in a speech last spring.
Onizuka's flight yesterday was his second, and while he told friends he hated the roaring noise and pressure of the liftoff, he said he was looking forward to his work filming Halley's Comet with a hand-held camera and to being in space again, which he described as "a great experience."
Onizuka, 39, was the first Japanese American to orbit the earth and friends said his pride in that fact shone through his self-effacing manner.
He grew up in the coffee fields of Hawaii's "big island," the oldest and most ambitious of four children born to the owners of a small neighborhood grocery store.
In school, he won a reputation for putting out a "190 percent effort," said Albert Ikeda, who taught him physical education at Konawaena High School in the tiny town of Kealakekua. An Eagle Scout, Onizuka threw himself into sports, the 4-H club, student government, Buddhist church activities, and later the ROTC at the University of Colorado where he studied aerospace engineering.
He joined NASA in 1978 after eight years as an Air Force test flight engineer and test pilot. Last January, he made his first space flight as a mission specialist aboard the secret Discovery mission, helping to release a $300 million spy satellite for the Pentagon.
His strong loyalties to his friends, college and state seemed to intensify with his career advances. Before his first flight, he presented the Mission Control staff with macadamia nuts and coffee from Hawaii.
He insisted on being allowed to put the emblem of the University of Colorado on a satellite to be released yesterday to gather information on Halley's Comet, according to Robert Culp, a professor with the university, which was to help analyze the information.
Onizuka made a special effort to talk about the space program to Hawaiian students. Absorbed in answering questions, he would have to be dragged away to his next appointment, his former principal said.
In a return show of loyalty, more than 60 friends from Hawaii went to Florida to witness yesterday's flight with Onizuka's wife, mother, two daughters, ages 10 and 16, and other family members.