Virginia Air and Space Center celebrates Black History Month

Contact Reporternjoseph@dailypress.com

Over the past year, African-American contributions to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) were brought to the forefront through the Oscar-nominated movie "Hidden Figures."

The movie, based on the real-life tale of mathematicians who worked at NASA Langley during the height of the civil rights movement, is set in Hampton.

Hampton also is the location of the Virginia Air and Space Center, which serves as the official visitor center for NASA Langley Research Center and is a hub for education about STEM.

The center hosts a Black History Month celebration annually, but this year's has a twist. In addition to keeping its focus on black STEM contributors, program coordinator Katherine Derby said Saturday's celebration also will feature many activities and educational opportunities related to "Hidden Figures."

"NASA will be here and they are highlighting the African-American astronauts as well as Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson," Derby said. "They will have several activities that deal with that and the astronauts."

In addition to NASA's "Hidden Figures" activities, Derby said the Hampton History Museum also will display parts of its current exhibit, "When the Computer Wore a Skirt: NASA's Human Computers."

Derby said last year's celebration drew about 1,400 people. Because of the popularity and interest in "Hidden Figures," Derby said that number likely will increase.

"Some of what people can get out of this event is a deeper look into the contributions that the African-American community have made to the world of STEM. They have made more contributions than we think and some of the kids out there today don't realize that there's a wide, wide world out there and you have a place in it whether you think so or not," Derby said.

Through the help of multiple Virginia Air and Space Center community partners, the event will feature visits from the Tuskegee Airmen and the National Institute of Aerospace.

The NIA will explore black aviation contributions from people such as Betsy Coleman and Dr. James Hubbard, and the event plans to focus on engineering activities, specifically involving Mary Jackson, who was depicted in "Hidden Figures."

Music will be provided by Life Power Music Mentoring, which will allow visitors to create music samples using Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

The event begins at 11 a.m. Saturday, and the center opens visitors at 10 a.m.

"There's so much history, and not necessarily just African-American history, but history in general here. A lot of people because they live in the area, wouldn't normally think about, 'Oh, let's just go to the air and space center today.' This event give them an opportunity to explore their own neighborhoods, to explore their own localities, as well as get a little bit more," Derby said.

The Virginia Air and Space Center's focus on "Hidden Figures" will continue into March during Women's History Month. It will host its annual Women in STEM event March 18.

Joseph can be reached by phone at 757-374-3134.

Want to go?

When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Virginia Air and Space Center, 600 Settlers Landing Road, Hampton.

Cost: $18.50 adults, $15 child/student, $16.50 senior, $15.50 military/NASA. Members are free.

More info: vasc.org or 757-727-0900.

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