As momentum continued to build for this weekend’s historic Mission to Mars launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Hancock College made some history of its own Tuesday afternoon.

The college dedicated two murals Tuesday at its Lompoc Valley Center — the first murals installed at the Lompoc campus since its opening in 1999. The murals were created by former Hancock student Ruben Espinoza and pay tribute to the local space industry.

One of the murals, titled “Looking to the Future,” depicts a student holding a book as a missile shoots into the sky in the background, while the second mural, titled “Unknown Endeavor,” portrays a scene from space with a satellite and celestial bodies in orbit.

“I am thrilled and proud that my art will be displayed at the college,” said Espinoza, who served in the U.S. Army before enrolling at Hancock and transferring to California State University, Fullerton. “It truly is an honor to start a new art tradition at the Lompoc Valley Center and continue the city of Lompoc’s rich mural history.”

Espinoza, a freelance designer, works for a variety of animation studios, including Nickelodeon, Warner Bros. and DreamWorks. He is in the process of opening his own design studio that will specialize in creating and installing murals to promote businesses and communities, according to Hancock officials.

Espinoza said he hopes that people are inspired by his artwork. In addition to representing the potential that every student possesses, he said the “Looking to the Future” piece pays tribute to the college, space exploration and the city of Lompoc.

“The missile represents the launching of a student’s academic career at Hancock,” he said. “The student enters into an exciting yet unknown endeavor after graduation, like the missile carrying a satellite into space.”

Espinoza added that the flowery hills in the painting are a nod to Lompoc’s connection to the flower industry.

“The student wears a red shirt to represent the fire academy, and the blue slacks represent the law enforcement academy,” he said, referring to the public safety programs offered at the Lompoc campus. “The books in her hand symbolize her education, and the blue and yellow trim represent Hancock.”

An illustration of the vastness of the universe and how insignificant a person may feel at times is the inspiration behind “Unknown Endeavor.”

“The space and darkness represent the student’s future — unknown, but exciting and scary at the same time,” Espinoza said. “The satellite symbolizes students who are well into their academic voyage but still have a long way to go.”

The Students Organizing for Advocacy and Retention (SOAR) Club led the on-campus push to bring artwork to the Lompoc Valley Center, according to the school. The club’s mission is to create a more engaging climate at the Lompoc campus. Club members met with the Lompoc Arts Council and other community organizations last year to raise funds for the project.

“Artwork carries with it a mixture of cultural, historical and societal appreciation,” said Michael Huggins, a founding SOAR Club member and former president of the Associated Student Body Government at Hancock. “We want to instill a more social and prideful attitude on the campus, as well as bridge the gap between the college and the city of Lompoc. We feel the mural accomplishes both goals.”

The murals are part of a push by Hancock’s Art on Campus Committee to incorporate more faculty and student artwork at the college’s campuses, the school reported. Hancock has installed two student-produced murals at its Santa Maria campus over the past 18 months.

“The Lompoc Valley Center was ripe for public art, and the best part of this is we have a very special Hancock alumnus as the artist,” said John Hood, chair of the college’s fine arts department and member of the Art on Campus Committee. “The mural beautifully illustrates the potential of our students and how they can start here and go anywhere.”

The mural dedication was part of the college’s Mars Week festivities, a series of free activities offered to students and the public to celebrate NASA’s InSight mission, in which a Mars lander will be launched aboard a rocket from VAFB as soon as Saturday morning to begin its six-month journey to the Red Planet.

NASA will host interplanetary exhibits inside the Rabobank Student Center on Hancock’s Santa Maria campus from noon to 4 p.m. Thursday and again from 1 to 8:30 p.m. Friday.

Other non-Hancock activities planned this week in Lompoc include a NASA Road Show stop from 3 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Dick DeWees Community and Senior Center, and a forum with discussion involving professionals in the space industry and members of the Vandenberg Amateur Astronomical Society from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Lompoc Public Library.

Additionally, Congresssman Salud Carbajal is scheduled to join engineers from Northrop Grumman to speak to students at Lompoc High School on Thursday about the James Webb Telescope, which is the successor to NASA's Hubble Telescope and is expected to launch in 2020. Also Thursday, a group of Lockheed Martin representatives will visit Cabrillo High School to talk to science students there about the Mars mission.

For more information about the Mars Week activities at Hancock, visit www.hancockcollege.edu/MarsWeek.

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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