PALMDALE, Calif. — In the Antelope Valley, places like Blackbird Airpark are home to legendary, sleek aircraft like the Lockheed SR-71A and the A-12.
Palmdale resident Abe Medina passes by them almost daily, frequently walking under their wings.
What You Need To Know
- Palmdale native Abe Medina was inspired by the Blackbird Airpark in the Antelope Valley to pursue an aerospace career
- The Antelope Valley, often called "Aerospace Valley," has a long history of aeronautical achievement
- Some local schools even prepare students to pursue a career in the field, including the Palmdale Aerospace Academy, where Medina graduated from
- Los Angeles filmmaker Steve Barber inspires the next generation of explorers by honoring heroes of the past with monuments
"It was inspired through the aerodynamics of birds, so that's why you kind of see the sleek finishes on the edges like wings on a bird," Medina said.
This place inspired Medina to reach for the stars — literally. Medina is only a few years out of high school and works for Virgin Galactic as an aerospace electronics integrator, building commercial spaceships. It's no surprise, given where he grew up.
The Antelope Valley, often called "Aerospace Valley," has a long history of aeronautical achievement. Some local schools even prepare students to pursue a career in the field, including the Palmdale Aerospace Academy, which is where he graduated. Medina hopes to earn a master's degree in electrical engineering and eventually work in space.
"I know that NASA is taking applications for human space flight," he said. "I can at least get in there and make myself appealing to them."
But it's not only places like this that motivate young people to head to the stars. Los Angeles filmmaker Steve Barber also inspires the next generation of explorers by honoring heroes of the past.
Barber recently raised $750,000 during the pandemic to erect a monument honoring the Apollo 13 crew at the Space Center Houston. Cmdr. Jim Lovell and pilots Jack Swigert and Fred Haise were part of the third moon-landing NASA mission but had to abort after an oxygen tank explosion. Barber said his inspiration for making monuments of space heroes goes back to his childhood when he met an astronaut.
"What happened was I met Jim Irwin when I was 12 years old in 1974," Barber said. "He was the commander of Apollo 15, and he and I hit it off. Little did I know, 50 years later, he would come through for me when I came up with this idea."
Barber is already raising funds for his next mission: a monument of Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. He also hopes to create a monument for other notable women in NASA history, including several African American female mathematicians detailed in the book and film adaptation "Hidden Figures."
Barber has witnessed the impact his monuments can have, especially on young minds.
"It just blew my mind, hundreds of people, you know, taking selfies, and being in front," he said. "And then one little kid was just staring, just staring at [Neil] Armstrong, looking up. And I thought, you know, this little kid is going to be an astronaut."
Whether it's through statues, airparks or even meeting former SR-71 pilot Bill Flanagan as Abe Medina was able to do, future space explorers have plenty of inspiration to look to.
"I totally think that it's possible within my lifetime that we start seeing some human exploration past the moon, or maybe orbiting the moon or going to Mars," Medina said.