Hampton celebrates NASA heritage

Sandra Julian Barker

This year, the City of Hampton, Va., marks two special anniversaries.

On July 9, 1917, Hampton became the birthplace of NASA. The first laboratories of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, Langley — later called NASA — brought world-class engineers to Hampton to begin work that would result in America’s vast space program.

The Virginia Air & Space Center, NASA’s official visitor center, celebrates its own 25th anniversary this year.

Hampton honors NASA

The Hampton History Museum is presenting two special exhibits related to NASA.

Virginia Air & Space Center

The History of NASA is a new exhibit chronicling the great contributions NASA has made to our lives. It opens March 10.

Another recent exhibit, When the Computer Wore a Skirt: NASA’s Human Computers, explores the local history and women now featured in the hit movie Hidden Figures. Beginning in 1935, women known as Langley’s West Computers “were helping America dominate aeronautics, space research, and computer technology,” said Margot Lee Shetterly, author of Hidden Figures. “They were carving out a place for themselves as female mathematicians who were also black.”

The exhibit highlights Dorothy Vaughan, who led West Computing; Mary Jackson, a Hampton native; and Katherine Johnson, who was awarded the Medal of Freedom in 2015.

Exploring flight

Step inside the Virginia Air and Space Center and you’re surrounded by aircraft and spacecraft of every size. The center is chock-full of hands-on exhibits and simulators for both children and adults. A new IMAX film, Dream Big: Engineering Our World, offers a unique look at engineering.

“We’re the official visitor center for Langley Research Center, and we’re here to bring the NASA message to visitors,” said the center’s Jessica Woodyard. “We’re the only place you can see all four of the space capsules in one room. We also have the actual Lunar Excursion Module Simulator used to train the astronauts before they went to the moon.”

Visiting Hampton

“Hampton is an extraordinary city in the heart of Coastal Virginia,” said Ryan Downey, who promotes the area. “Our 400-year old settlement is multi-faceted: rich in Civil War history, African-American heritage, water recreation, and abundant shopping and dining opportunities,”

Hampton offers a “Sea to the Stars” ticket that helps visitors explore many of Hampton’s attractions at one low price. Included are the Virginia Air and Space Center and an IMAX film, a ride on the antique wooden Hampton Carousel, admission to the Hampton History Museum, and a cruise aboard Miss Hampton II. The cruise takes visitors on a three-hour tour of the area waterways and includes a stop at Civil War-era Fort Wool and a spin around the world’s largest Naval base in Norfolk.

Among Hampton’s free attractions are Fort Monroe, the largest stone fortification ever built in the U.S., and its Casemate Museum, and St. John’s Church, established in 1610 and regarded as the oldest continuous English-speaking parish in the nation.

Before you go:

Hampton Tourism: visithampton.com

Virginia Air and Space Center: vasc.org

Hampton History Museum: hampton.gov/history_museum

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