Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Do kids still dream about space?

By J.R. "Jack" Dailey
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1208 GMT (2008 HKT)
Visited by millions each year, the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington is home to several Apollo lunar modules built for the moon-landing program. Visited by millions each year, the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington is home to several Apollo lunar modules built for the moon-landing program.
'One small step': Artifacts of the moon landing
'One small step': Artifacts of the moon landing
'One small step': Artifacts of the moon landing
'One small step': Artifacts of the moon landing
'One small step': Artifacts of the moon landing
'One small step': Artifacts of the moon landing
'One small step': Artifacts of the moon landing
'One small step': Artifacts of the moon landing
'One small step': Artifacts of the moon landing
'One small step': Artifacts of the moon landing
'One small step': Artifacts of the moon landing
  • Gen. J.R. "Jack" Dailey says, 45 years after the first moonwalk, the allure of space is still strong
  • The Air and Space Museum is home to Neil Armstrong's spacesuit
  • Visitors can also find the Apollo 11 command module there
  • Dailey: For many children and grown-ups, the moon landing represented infinite potential

Editor's note: Gen. J.R. "Jack" Dailey is a retired U.S. Marine Corps four star general, pilot and director of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- If we can put a man on the moon ...

I see it every day, the wonderment in the eyes of young children as they walk into the museum. They marvel at the pockmarked Apollo 11 command module or the shininess of the Apollo lunar module or the massive scale of the Space Shuttle Discovery.

For them, nearly five decades later, anything is still possible.

Forty-five years after the crew of Apollo 11 landed on the moon, millennials have now reached adulthood -- just as the baby boomers did in the 1960s -- and their kids still see hope in the stars.

Gen. John R. Dailey
Gen. John R. Dailey

This historic anniversary shines through the decades, as a watershed of American ingenuity, determination and spirit.

At the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, our visitors remind us every day that these qualities endure, as entwined as ever with progress in aviation, spaceflight and planetary science.

Since our opening during the nation's Bicentennial in 1976, more than 325 million people have visited. The establishment in 2003 of our second location in suburban Virginia, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center -- where the Shuttle Discovery is now located -- has increased our patronage. We are recognized as the country's most visited museum.

What is it about the history and science of flight that appeals to so many, transcending age and cultural biases?

What is NASA's next giant leap?
NASA re-enacts the moon launch in tweets
Moon landing; Rare footage, fresh story

Public reaction to the moon landing offers clues. More than anything, it represented infinite potential. It was the first time in history that humans set foot on another body. It was an American endeavor, but a worldwide triumph.

The Apollo 8 mission less than a year earlier set the stage for this powerful and galvanizing achievement because it inspired people to view the planet Earth in a new way. When its crew in lunar orbit focused cameras on Earth, humanity saw its home for the first time from far away, a small "blue marble" hanging in the blackness of space.

So when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon's surface in the summer of 1969, humanity recognized in an unambiguous way that the exploration of space was possible, achievable and inevitable. This recognition continues to inspire and motivate us, and will for decades to come.

As the home of Armstrong's spacesuit, the Apollo 11 command module Columbia, and thousands of other artifacts related to aviation and space, we see firsthand how viewing these objects, and learning the stories behind them, resonates with children and people of all ages.

Our mission -- to commemorate, educate and inspire -- applies not only to the artifacts we preserve, but also to the research we conduct in aeronautics, space history and planetary studies.

The work our curators and scientists do serves as the foundation for exhibitions, programs, books, educational activities, online offerings, and live and broadcast programs. In the 21st century, our mission extends far beyond our walls, to reach the global community.

For those of us 50 and older, the anniversary of the moon landing will undoubtedly bring to mind the memory of what we were doing when Armstrong stated those memorable words "one small step for (a) man; one giant leap for mankind." We watched the event on television, looked up at the moon, and half expected to see Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's movements from Earth.

For younger people who have never known a life where Americans were not exploring space, who have followed the magnificent achievements of the space shuttle era and progress on the International Space Station, they know our adventure is still ongoing, one they will eventually inherit.

At the National Air and Space Museum, the pride and optimism of Apollo 11 hasn't faded away. It endures, living on in the eyes of those kids.

And now it's up to them. What transforming discoveries will they make in the next 50 years of the space age? What new technologies and new worlds will become routine for them and their children?

Only one feature of spaceflight is inevitable: The unexpected will occur. Nevertheless, it is that sense of possibility that continues to excite us. The sky is no longer the limit.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on

Part of complete coverage on
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger