Viewport: First Impressions
- By John Dailey
- Air & Space magazine, May 2000
The National Air and Space Museum is a tribute to everything that has made this country great: It reflects ingenuity, innovation, persistence, courage, success, and disappointment—often all in the same artifact. The exhibits are designed to be accessible, clear, and concise in order to impart knowledge to large groups of visitors with varied backgrounds and interests (and often limited time) so that people can fully enjoy the experience. For the serious student, there are reams of information in our library and archives, much of it digitized, complemented by a staff of experts available to assist researchers. The expertise that resides here can overwhelm even the most accomplished of ready room storytellers. Now I am privileged to be a part of it all and a bit in awe of my surroundings.
Let me introduce myself: I’m Jack Dailey, the new director of this national treasure. I arrived here after seven years at NASA and, prior to that, 36 years as a Marine and Naval aviator. My dad was a Marine aviator who had his introduction to combat in Nicaragua and finished up in Korea; I represented the family in Vietnam. My life and my principal interests have always revolved around aircraft and, more recently, spacecraft.
Even though I have been associated with the Museum for several years as a member of the advisory board, there are some important aspects of its operation that I did not understand, the most important of which is that we must raise private funds for essentially everything we do. Appropriated funds cover salaries for federal employees and some maintenance, but the exhibits and other programs are primarily funded from private sources. The generosity of the American public and our international partners is what really makes this place tick. I am very impressed with the consistency of the support provided by organizations and individuals.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the campaign to fund the Dulles Center. We are on course for a December 2003 opening to support the centennial celebration of the Wright brothers’ flight. Although we have a long way to go before we reach our funding goal, we are making steady progress and are optimistic that we’ll get there.
One of the major benefits of the new facility will be the significantly increased ability to support educational activities. We will have classroom and laboratory facilities that are not available in the museum on the Mall and that will enable us to host classroom-size groups of visitors more effectively. We will be able to provide support to teachers in course development and provide an ideal setting for stimulating interest in math and science.
In addition, Fairfax County in northern Virginia has funded a new high school that will feature an aviation curriculum. Its location directly across from the Dulles facility will provide us with an opportunity to work closely with the students. Of course, these same opportunities will be available to students from across the nation who want to take advantage of them.
I see a bright future for us and am looking forward to the challenges that our team faces in completing the new facility and keeping our museum on the Mall the most popular in the world. And as a lifelong aviator and aerospace enthusiast, I think I have found Valhalla.
—John Dailey is the director of the National Air and Space Museum.