Published On: Sat, Feb 11th, 2017

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.

National Museum of the American Indian - Native Hawaiian Canoe
National Museum of the American Indian - Native Hawaiian Canoe
National Museum of the American Indian - Native Hawaiian Canoe
National Museum of the American Indian - Native Hawaiian Canoe

For thousands of years, we have traveled the Pacific in traditional voyaging canoes. Traditional canoe building, racing, and non-instrument navigation techniques have been revived to perpetuate Native Hawaiian culture and values. We now seek to provide a gateway to the future, with pride for the building, maintaining and carving of these boats.

— Friends of the Hokule’a and Hawai’iloa, 2004

National Museum of the American Indian

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.

National Museum of the American Indian - ImagiNATIONS
National Museum of the American Indian - ImagiNATIONS
National Museum of the American Indian - ImagiNATIONS
National Museum of the American Indian - ImagiNATIONS
This little contraption is supposed to test your balance, but doesn’t do much to try to get you off-balance. So, if you’re not careful, your kid could sit there for hours, thinking she’s winning.

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.

National Museum of the American Indian
This 300-year-old lava stone has a name: Kane Po. After a 20-year stay at the museum, it will return to its home in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park near Hilo. Native Hawaiians consider it to be a living relative. It is one of four Cardinal Direction Markers around the museum.
National Museum of the American Indian
For the Pueblo Indians of the Southwest, the Buffalo Dancer is an enduring celebration, a prayer for the well-being of all.
National Air and Space Museum - African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space

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.

National Air and Space Museum - African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space

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.

National Air and Space Museum - African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space
National Air and Space Museum - African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space

After making a Squadron Badge, albeit a very pink one, it was on to creating a mini P51 Mustang.

National Air and Space Museum - African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space
Popsicle sticks and a little glue, and you have yourself a P-51 Mustang.
National Air and Space Museum - African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space
National Air and Space Museum - African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space
National Air and Space Museum - African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space

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.

National Air and Space Museum - African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space
Step 1: Design your parachute.
National Air and Space Museum - African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space

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.”

National Air and Space Museum - African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space
Step 2: build the parachute

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.

National Air and Space Museum - African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space
National Air and Space Museum - African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space
National Air and Space Museum - African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space
You knew it was on once Nduku dropped everything she was holding.
National Air and Space Museum - African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space
Najwa found another use for the coffee filters other than building parachutes.

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.

National Air and Space Museum - African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space
Step 3: Deploy the parachute
National Air and Space Museum - African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space

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.

National Air and Space Museum - African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space
Najwa’s third activity was to create a NASA Space Medal.

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.

National Air and Space Museum - African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space
National Air and Space Museum - African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space

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.

National Air and Space Museum - African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space

Three stamps down; one more to go.  We headed to the second floor to make aviation gear.  Pilot goggles.

National Air and Space Museum - African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space
National Air and Space Museum - African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space

With her fourth activity completed, her fourth stamp in her passport book — Najwa earned her Tuskegee Congressional Gold Medal!

National Air and Space Museum - African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space
National Air and Space Museum

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.

National Air and Space Museum - How Things Fly
National Air and Space Museum - How Things Fly
Najwa would weight 135 pounds if she was standing on Jupiter.
National Air and Space Museum - How Things Fly

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.

National Air and Space Museum - How Things Fly
National Air and Space Museum - How Things Fly

Very rarely, it seems, that we’ve visited and the Design Hangar was open.  Fortunately, today it was, and they had an interesting challenge.

National Air and Space Museum - Design Hangar
National Air and Space Museum - Design Hangar

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.

National Air and Space Museum - 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.

What is the Universe like? Our answer to that question has changed—sometimes suddenly and dramatically—as our tools for studying the Universe have changed. Explore the Universe shows how our ideas about the Universe evolved as we developed new astronomical instruments. It presents the Universe as discerned by the naked eye, then shows how the telescope, photography, spectroscopy, and digital technology revolutionized our view. The largest section describes what astronomers today think about the nature of the Universe.

Among the many amazing treasures on display: an Islamic astrolabe from 10 centuries ago, the actual telescope tube from William Herschel’s 20-foot telescope, the observing cage from the Mount Wilson Observatory’s 100-inch Hooker Telescope, and the backup mirror for the Hubble Space Telescope.

National Air and Space Museum
Push a button, a tube lights up a color, you guess the element that caused the light — neon, helium, hydrogen or mercury.
National Air and Space Museum
National Air and Space Museum
National Air and Space Museum
National Air and Space Museum

And that — that was a great day at the museum!

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About the Author

David Gaines

- David Gaines is a Washington, DC, resident transplanted from North Carolina whose dream career was a newspaper writer but settled for the recruiting industry and simply blogging about whatever thoughts crosses his mind.



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