Celebrating African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space
The National Air and Space Museum is one of Najwa’s favorite museums. So, I put it on the calendar because they were having a Heritage Family Day with the focus on African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space. But, their food court is a bit lacking, and we were all hungry, so our first stop was next door at the National Museum of the American Indian where the food court has better food options.
Of course, since we were in the building, Najwa wanted to explore a little bit.
Najwa once took a school field trip to the National Museum of the American Indian, and her favorite part was on the third floor, a kid’s section called imagiNATIONS. We last were here for the Day of the Dead celebration, but it was Nduku’s first time. And I already knew Najwa was going to want to spend most of her time on the trivia game.
Finally, we headed next door to the National Air and Space Museum. On the way there were a couple more interesting items. To me anyway.
When we first get to the museum, Najwa naturally wants to immediately go to the kid’s section. We have an agreement though, whenever we go to a museum with a kid’s section. She first has to visit an exhibit or two, learn something, and then we’ll end our visit with what she wants to do. Of course, once it almost got me in trouble, not realizing the kid’s section at the National Museum of American Museum closes before the rest of the museum, leaving us only 15 minutes for what she wanted to do.
But when the Air and Space Museum is having a Heritage Family Day, the activities helps distract Najwa enough to forget her agenda. There’s usually a “passport” for the kids. Each activity they complete, they get the passport stamped, fueling them to want to get, in this case, all four stamps, creating an eagerness to move on to the next activity. Brilliant.
The first stop was an activity to create a Squadron Badge. The squadron they’re talking about is for the Tuskegee Airmen who flew P-51 Mustangs during World War II with great success.
After making a Squadron Badge, albeit a very pink one, it was on to creating a mini P51 Mustang.
After getting her first stamp in her passport book, Najwa was in the zone. We literally walked right past her favorite section without even noticing, intent on completing the next activity to get another stamp. So off we went to build a parachute.
Though we were celebrating Black History Month, it’s obvious Najwa had Valentine’s Day on her mind. Her parachute is covered in hearts and the word “love.”
Many times, when it’s just me and Najwa at these events, I have to choose between helping her with whatever activity she’s doing or take some pictures, risking her getting frustrated doing something complicated on her own, not wanting to smile for the camera.
When Nduku comes, life is so much simpler. I just find it funny how, though these activities are for kids, how quickly parents jump in to help, and eventually end up doing almost the entire activity. Creating the parachute was a bit challenging. Most of the parents at the table had to build it for their kids. It’s funny seeing how bored the kids seemed, waiting for the grown folk to finish their project.
Najwa stuck around to help/watch Nduku. I just found it amusing how into it Nduku seemed to be getting.
There wasn’t much guidance in how you made the parachute. Some parents made some elaborate parachutes, several layers, lots of pipe cleaner, not very parachute looking. Nduku and Najwa’s was pretty straight forward. ‘Chute at top; plastic man hanging at the bottom. Now it was time to toss him over the rail.
Well, it worked, as in, it didn’t fall apart, but I can’t say the little plastic man fell any slower than if tossed over the rail without the parachute. That seemed to be the case for everyone’s parachute. I’m not sure what was considered a successfully designed and built parachute, but Najwa got her second passport stamp so we headed out to the third activity.
There were several shapes to choose from. Najwa chooses the heart. When you see a heart-shaped medal, you think Purple Heart; not sure why an astronaut would be awarded a Purple Heart, but Najwa had something else in mind altogether.
The medals are awarded to astronauts for valor, or intelligence, or some other adjectives the staff member explained. Najwa, on the other hand, said her heart-shaped medal was for Valentine’s Day.
While Najwa was making her NASA Space Medal, another dad was helping his kid with hers. I took his picture because I liked his hat.
Three stamps down; one more to go. We headed to the second floor to make aviation gear. Pilot goggles.
With her fourth activity completed, her fourth stamp in her passport book — Najwa earned her Tuskegee Congressional Gold Medal!
But that didn’t mean we were done. If anything, we were only at the halfway point of our visit to the museum. With the business part done, it was time to play. Off to the “How Things Fly” exhibit.
There’s a lot of small activities for the kids in this exhibit, all of them helping understand the concept of flight. One of the displays uses water pressure to visually show how small changes here and there affects the way it flows. Similar to how air flows when these changes are made.
And I find it just as amazing how kids all play with the displays, maybe read the explanations, but don’t really get it. More like, don’t really care to get it. No matter, seeds are being planted in Najwa’s head. One day, they’ll sprout, and she’ll have an epiphany and maybe get hired by Elon Musk to help design vehicles to take man past the moon.
Very rarely, it seems, that we’ve visited and the Design Hangar was open. Fortunately, today it was, and they had an interesting challenge.
The ladies build something that didn’t stand a chance when air was put to it. It’s hard to explain in words how they tested your design, so you’ll have to make a trip there one day. There were other parents and kids building structures, and on average, they all came down with the blasts of air. It was obviously an engineering challenge.
Not satisfied with their first results, the ladies built another design. This time, they reduced the surface space, using more of a crisscross pattern when stacking the slats of wood, staying under 450 grams but reaching at least 15 centimeters. This time, their structure stood after several blasts of air.
Najwa was happy, always a good thing, but Nduku was beaming!
Usually “How Things Fly” is our last stop. And I knew Nduku was running out of gas. I know I was, but I think she got a jolt of energy when her structure survived and when the ladies refueled with astronaut food.
So, we checked out one more exhibit. And as many times as I’ve walked the entirety of the National Air and Space Museum, surprisingly, this was my first time visiting the “Explore the Universe” exhibit.
And that — that was a great day at the museum!