July 3rd, 2011
11:36 AM ET

Challenger astronaut's widow reflects on end of U.S. shuttle program

Editor's note: Atlantis' journey to the International Space Station will be NASA's 135th and final mission in the space shuttle program, which began 30 years ago. Tune in Friday, July 8 at 10 p.m. ET after the final space shuttle launch for "CNN Presents: Beyond Atlantis."

Houston, Texas (CNN) - Days after the 1986 Challenger disaster, Lorna Onizuka's daughter approached her with a strange request.

Darien, 9, had just lost her father, Ellison Onizuka, a mission specialist aboard the ill-fated shuttle.

"She said, 'I want you to die today,' " her mother, Lorna Onizuka recalled. "I was ... stunned, and before I could say anything, she said, 'But you can come alive on Tuesday.' "

Lorna Onizuka asked her daughter why she wanted her to temporarily die.

"And she said, 'Because I need to ask Daddy some things, then he can be dead again and you can come alive,' " she recalled.

Onizuka, now 61, says her daughter's request opened her eyes to "the pain and anguish in children that you cannot fix."

"As parents we're fixers. And you can't fix those things. It's just time," she said.

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