An era of outer space discovery spanning 30 years full of triumphs and tragedies came to an end on July 21, 2011 when the Space Shuttle Atlantis said goodbye to the final frontier and hello to its final resting place at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Bay Area residents had a brush with the space program in September when the long retired Space Shuttle Endeavor flew over Northern California on its way to its final home at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.
"I watched Endeavors last flight and it was inspiring seeing it going over the Golden Gate Bridge," said Joe Noriel, president of the Petaluma Museum. "It was also sad that after 30 years the Space Shuttle Program was ending. I grew up in the &‘80s after the Apollo missions (humans in space program). The Space Shuttle Program is an amazing story, from the Hubble Space Telescope to the Challenger and Columbia space shuttles. It's a story full of human interest."
Endeavor's flyover inspired Noriel to put together "Wings in Space: A Tribute to the Space Shuttle Program," exhibit which is on display at the museum Jan. 17-27.
"Wings in Space" is presented in cooperation with Sonoma State University, The Space Station Museum of Novato and the Santa Rosa Junior College Planetarium.
"It's an opportunity for the public to get up close to the NASA Space Shuttle program," said Noriel. "On display we have $100,000 worth of shuttle artifacts on loan from the Space Station Museum of Novato, including gold Mylar blankets, heat shields and flags that have flown in space. A couple educators also stepped forward and loaned us items from Sonoma State University and the Santa Rosa Junior College Planetarium."
The highlight of the short exhibit is a visit and presentation by Space Shuttle Discovery astronaut Jose Hernandez.
"One of my goals has been to reach out to the Latino community in Petaluma," said Noriel. "I went out on a limb and reached out to Hernandez and fortunately he said yes. These guys are really busy and get a lot of requests. We're pretty lucky to have him."
Hernandez is one of four children from a migrant farming family. He did not learn to speak English until he was 12 years old. His courage and determination led him to realize his dream of being accepted to the NASA Astronaut Training Program and flying on Space Shuttle STS-128 Discovery on a journey to the International Space Station. He is one of only 12 Hispanic individuals who have flown in space.
Hernandez will discuss his long road to becoming a shuttle astronaut, after applying 12 times before being accepted, and traveling to the International Space Station.
Besides being an astronaut, he helped engineer a successful device for breast cancer screening and held a position in the government responsible for locating and securing Russian nuclear material after the fall of the Soviet Union. He speaks fluent Russian.
"He's such an inspiration," said Noriel. "The Latino community is responding with enthusiasm to this presentation because Hernandez is a such a role model."
The city of Petaluma will honor space shuttle astronaut Jose Hernandez with a motorcade through downtown at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 26 followed by a presentation at the museum at 2 p.m. featuring Mayor David Glass and the proclamation of "Jose Hernandez Day" in Petaluma. The Petaluma Fire Department will have its ladder truck parked at the museum as part of the festivities.