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From Red Tails to the Red Planet
Ezra Hill, original Tuskegee Airman.

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Ezra Hill, an original Tuskegee Airman, shows the groups' Congressional Medal of Honor to Isaih, 5, and Antonio, 17, during a Black History Month celebration at the Virginia Air and Space Center. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

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Kalmari Jones, 8, takes a ride through Dr. David Wright's "Mars Funky Physics Adventures," during the "Red Tails to the Red Planet" event. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

On Saturday, Ezra Hill stood near the entrance to the Virginia Air and Space Center (VASC) and welcomed more than 600 visitors to the "Red Tails to Red Planet" Black History Month celebration with some living history.

In the 1940s, Hill, along with thousands of other dedicated, determined young men volunteered to become America's first Black Military Airmen who became known as the Tuskegee Airmen. After training, they went on to set records that, still to this day, have not been surpassed.

They flew more than 15,000 sorties in more than 1,500 missions. They were cited for an "Outstanding Combat Record" by the 15th Army Forces Commander for only a few bombers lost to enemy fighters; a record unmatched by white fighter pilots who averaged 25-bomber losses per day.

In 2007, the Airmen received a Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award given by Congress, from President George W. Bush.

"America was not always like it is today," said Sgt. Harry Quinton, another original Tuskeekee Airman who casually spoke to a group at the event about segregation during his service.

When asked to give the students in attendance some advice, Quinton told them to "Be aware." He and three other original Tuskegee Airmen, along with several volunteers from the Tidewater Chapter Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. were providing awareness through their experiences.

Quinton also advised the students to "get all the education you can get."

The Airmen were surrounded by volunteers from the VASC and NASA's Langley Research Center, who hosted several hands-on exhibits about Mars exploration and the challenges of landing on the Red Planet.

According to Ivelisse Gillman, in addition to recognizing the efforts of the Tuskegee Airmen’s role in aviation, the event was set up to engage students and guests in the excitement and challenges of Curiosity and the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL).

At the VASC, Dr. David Wright, also known as "Dr. D," presented "Mars Funky Physics Adventures," a fast-paced interactive show, which compares the physics of the Curiosity landing on Mars with roller coasters. An extended version of his show will be presented at Busch Gardens’ Globe Theatre on the third Friday of each month from April through June.

"I love teaching science to kids, and showing them how it applies everywhere," he said. "It's important to give them a good introduction to physics so that they stay engaged and interested."

From an important era in the history of aviation, to a new chapter in scientific accomplishments, students were able to receive a broad, valuable education.

"Hardships are good for us – they enrich our inner person," Quinton said. "We are proud to have survived, and we feel obligated to tell the Tuskegee Airmen story whenever we can."

David Way.

Image Above: Just one day prior to the VASC event, volunteers from NASA Langley reached about 350 students during Mars Exploration Day at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond, Va. David Way (pictured), technical lead for Langley’s Mars Science Lab team, spoke to students and guests and answered their questions about the challenges of landing on Mars. Credit: NASA/Meghan Guethe

By: Denise Lineberry

The Researcher News
NASA Langley Research Center
Editor & Curator: Denise Lineberry
Executive Editor & Responsible NASA Official: Rob Wyman