Hokulea captain explains how late astronaut’s vision inspired historic journey

Nainoa Thompson and Lacy Veach (Photo: The Veach family)

Hawaii’s voyaging canoe Hokulea arrived in Titusville, Fla. Tuesday, just west of the Kennedy Space Center where crew members will hold a special ceremony to honor Hawaii’s first two astronauts, Ellison Onizuka and Lacy Veach.

For Hokulea captain Nainoa Thompson, it has an even deeper meaning as he’ll be honoring one of his best friends.

In 1992, Punahou graduate Lt. Col. Lacy Veach was on board the space shuttle Columbia as it flew over Hawaii.

Buoyed constantly by his love for the islands, he responded to mission control’s wake-up call with: “Hanohano Hawaii la, aloha Houston.”

Veach once smuggled on board an adze, or an ax-like cutting tool. “You see Hawaii Island through the window? That’s where the adze is from, passed down through his family.”

“He had a great affection for Hawaii and for the people and always wanted to promote it,” said Veach’s wife, Alice Veach.

Veach and Nainoa Thompson became fast friends and hatched a plan for a three-way call: Veach in the space shuttle, Thompson on the ‘spaceship’ of ancestors, Hokulea in the South Pacific, both fielding questions from children in Hawaii and broadcasting to hundreds of classrooms.

When asked by a student, “What do you think are the similarities and differences between the shuttle and Hokulea’s mission?” Veach responded, “They are both voyages of exploration.”

Thompson says it’s when Veach saw Hawaii from space that he knew it held the answer to a beautiful, sustainable and caring earth. He says Veach actually planted the seed for Hokulea to sail around the world.

Emotions ran deep as Hokulea arrived near the Kennedy Space Center ahead of Wednesday’s ceremony.

Veach succumbed to cancer three years after his ’92 shuttle mission at the age of 51. His family says he would have loved this day.

“It was almost as if he was walking along with us, and I could hear him saying, ‘This is great, this is great!’ It was like he was there. It was very overwhelming,” said his daughter, Maile Veach.

“I think he would have felt that the circle was being completed,” said Alice Veach.

“It’s very personal for me to come here to honor our two great explorers, the best from Hawaii, but also honor their families and thank them at the place they flew from,” said Thompson.

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