Danny De Gracia: Let's Inspire Hawaii's Children To Shoot For The Moon - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

Today is my 43rd birthday, and, as my fellow Gen Xers and some of the younger Baby Boomers know, many of us who grew up watching cartoon reruns of “The Jetsons” from the early 1960s have been impatiently asking over and over again for the last 30 years, “Weren’t we supposed to have flying cars by now?”

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People from the Hanna-Barbera screenwriting era can’t be faulted for seeding into American pop culture consciousness an expectation that by the 2000s, we’d be living in a society of routine flying cars and space travel.

Someone living in the 1960s of George Jetson’s initial TV airing would have grown up witnessing a breakneck scientific and technological progression of the United States from a nation of dirt roads and rickety automobiles to a superpower that had mastered the atom, cruised the skies with supersonic planes and was already sending men into outer space.

We also had people back then like Hawaii’s own Ellison Onizuka, who, born in the post-World War II era of June 1946, were inspired by the innovation and progress sweeping their world and were already reaching for the stars. Onizuka, as former President Ronald Reagan would chronicle, grew up “as a child running barefoot through the coffee fields and macadamia groves of Hawaii” and had a dream of one day going to the moon.

For locals like Onizuka, graduating from Konawaena High School, going on to get a bachelor of science in aerospace engineering, joining the U.S. Air Force as a test pilot and later becoming a NASA astronaut was so revolutionary at the time it must have felt like becoming George Jetson himself.

I mention all this because last week, another technological and societal revolution may have just begun for our younger generations with the successful launch of the uncrewed NASA Artemis I rocket now headed for the moon.

If Artemis I is successful, subsequent NASA missions to Luna will be manned. It’s been 50 years since we’ve seen humans walk on the surface of another world, but now, we are just under two years away from watching the next manned moon landing. Say it with me: “Wow!”

Onizuka wasn’t able to make it to the moon because he perished aboard the Challenger space shuttle, but there is an entire generation of Hawaii children alive right now who will witness the next manned moon landing and could very well make it there in their lifetime. We could have a new generation of Ellison Onizukas here in Hawaii who might not even need to be NASA or military pilots to make it to the moon, or Mars, or beyond that in the next 40 years, and that should excite and motivate us adults to help them get there.

Air Force specialist salutes in a U.S. Space Force uniform during a ceremony for U.S. Air Force airmen transitioning to U.S. Space Force guardian designations Feb. 12, 2021, at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. About 1,000 Air National Guard troops who are assigned to space missions are mired in an identity crisis. According to commanders, the troops' units are torn between the Air Force, where they’ve historically been assigned, and the military’s shiny new Space Force, where they now work. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)
Policy initiatives like partnering with the U.S. Space Force and bringing legacy NASA astronauts to Hawaii to speak to classrooms would be simple ways to inspire exploration. AP Photo/Noah Berger/2021

Incoming Democratic Gov. Josh Green has an outstanding opportunity to set new goals for public education in this new era of exploration. Humanity’s space future is going to need people with a strong command of science, mathematics and multi-disciplinary knowledge in a way that far exceeds prior generations. If Hawaii commits now to helping our keiki become the most competitive in the nation, our state can become a career launch pad for the future of America, and our planet.

To begin, the Hawaii Department of Education needs to arouse in existing students a profound interest in aerospace as an important part of their future. This can immediately be accomplished with easy policy initiatives like bringing legacy NASA astronauts to Hawaii to speak to classrooms as guest speakers; offering students mainland field trips to space museums or active NASA facilities; or even partnering with the U.S. Space Force or NASA to have some kind of local discovery program that allows local students to learn about the space profession.

Never underestimate how powerful a keiki’s imagination can be in motivating them to succeed. Something as simple as introducing them to a new role model, letting them touch a piece of history or see the future in the making can ignite a passion that can revolutionize both their career and Hawaii’s destiny.

The other, longer-term objective must be to help our keiki overcome learning challenges and even excel in mathematics and sciences. Not only must we make those naturally gifted with academic talent succeed, but we must find ways to improve the abilities of those lagging behind or suffering low confidence in difficult subjects.

When I was growing up, I had “math anxiety,” but my parents got me tutors (and very expensive calculators) until I was able to not only ace my exams but understand the subject with competence. If we can find ways to build an educational culture where we address lack of confidence, low self-esteem and fear of failure with the right tools to overcome difficulties and master subjects, we will start to see dynamic results among our graduates.

In previous generations, people like the late Ellison Onizuka might have been the exception in Hawaii. But what if we could raise an entire generation like him? What would happen if we transformed Hawaii into a global engineering, science and aerospace industry hub? How would our future 22nd century look if we seized this moment right now for what it is – a new chance for inspiration and rapid progress?

NASA has once more given us a moonshot in technology. It’s time for us to respond with a moonshot in education.

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About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

Latest Comments (0)

Kids today realize they can be mega start and earn money through social media platforms like Twitter, You Tube, Facebook, Instagram and Only Fans. What needs to be realized and balanced is, like professional sports, only a minutia of kids make it big in that arena as well. I see it as the big distraction because they are all aware of and utilize sites like these and more, even at a young age.

wailani1961 · 4 months ago

What I most admire about Ellison Onizuka was not for being an astronaut who made it to space. Rather, what I marvel at the most was his perseverance & resiliency. I hate to be the Debbie Downer here, but I'll say it: Not everybody living today will get to experience space travel. Unless one has the money or the social connections to be a space tourist, then the odds are very long to be chosen as a working astronaut.Onizuka's career bears that out. Graduating from Konawaena in 1964. Earning his bachelors & masters at U. of Colorado in '69. Joining the USAF & being a test pilot. Then beating out thousands of other applicants to get into NASA's Space Shuttle training program in '78. And even then, not going into space until '85. Onizuka's dream literally took a couple of decades to materialize. It was not the path for anyone wanting instant gratification & rewards. The odds he had to beat were much tougher than that of a prep school football player making it to the pros. This is why the thing I most admire about him was his attitude of gambatte: Never giving up. It is this aspect of Onizuka that anyone can emulate, to fully realize their God-given potential.

KalihiValleyHermit · 4 months ago

I'd be happy with just decent math and science outcomes.

Sally · 4 months ago

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