Editor’s Note: Barack Obama is President of the United States.

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Barack Obama: Space program shows America's boundary-pushing curiosity. We do what's possible before anyone else

He says next step is to reach for Mars: learn to build new habitats that can sustain astronauts on long missions

CNN  — 

One of my earliest memories is sitting on my grandfather’s shoulders, waving a flag as our astronauts returned to Hawaii. This was years before we’d set foot on the moon. Decades before we’d land a rover on Mars. A generation before photos from the International Space Station would show up in our social media feeds.

I still have the same sense of wonder about our space program that I did as a child. It represents an essential part of our character – curiosity and exploration, innovation and ingenuity, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible and doing it before anybody else. The space race we won not only contributed immeasurably important technological and medical advances, but it also inspired a new generation of scientists and engineers with the right stuff to keep America on the cutting edge.