In defense of NASA: was Re: Wirin' up blinkenlights

From: Richard Erlacher <>
Date: Fri Jun 9 20:15:01 2000

Without getting into detail, which would require I refresh my memory about a
number of these examples, I'd point out that EPOXY is one that came about by
accident, although there are many others. I'd be surprised to find that
someone set out to build a semiconductor, knowing that the physical
chemistry of the substances involved, and that people, though they knew in
advance that such things could be done, simply hadn't bothered for one
reason or another. Likewise, I recently saw a PBS program that went into
some detail about the invention of RADAR. That certainly wasn't planned out
in advance. Nobel (according to another PBS program) didn't set about to
invent Nitrogycerin, nor, knowing about nitrogycerine, did he set out to
invent nitrocellulose, And, of course, there's the Post-It. That certainly
was an accident, resulting from a spill, according to the inventor, who was
interviewed on an NPR program.

I'd be really surprised to learn that someone sat down one day saying, "I'm
going to invent CMOS devices now!"

I'd be really pleased, in fact, to know even one significant invention that
was produced by a typical over-organized and micro-managed NASA engineering
team of the sort I remember from back in the Apollo days.

----- Original Message -----
From: Hans Franke <>
To: <>
Sent: Friday, June 09, 2000 4:45 PM
Subject: Re: In defense of NASA: was Re: Wirin' up blinkenlights

> Ahoi Dick,
> > > Yeah, things like the Space Race and WWII did nothing for rapid
> > > technological evolution and development, the least of which benefitted
> > > from this was computers.
> > So many of these major discoveries were made purely by accident.
> > which might not have happened if Engineers and Scientists hadn't had the
> > freedom, and the funding, to take time with this or that strange
> > observed in conjunction with an accident.
> Seriously, I doubt that any useful development was done by accident.
> None of these technologies have been invented because of the space race,
> it's plain old hard work to do it - and this would have happened anyway.

It's true that it requires great deal of effort to turn any invention into
something useful. By definition, however, it's really difficult to find
even one case wherein someone set about to invent new technology knowing
that he could do it. The vast sums of money have to be justfied by the
promise of some well defined result. Invention is, by definition, not well
defined in advance of its occurrence.

> Of course the space exploration did bring a vast amount of new knowledge
> about nature and the universe, but no new technology that wouldn't have
> been developed at all. Don't get me wrong, I'm 100% pro space exploration,
> we just should be smart enough to see marketing schemes when they creep
> around.
Fuel cell technology, not of tremendous interest in many places outside the
space-flight realm, certainly was an outgrowth of the space effort that
would still be undeveloped but for the need for it presented by space
exploration and satellite communication. However, if there had been no
space exploration effort afoot, low-power semiconductor technology would
probably not yet have evolved.

My own experience in the electronics engineering field certainly has shown
me more examples of a technology developed elsewhere and a potential
entrepeneur looking at it with the question, "How can I captialize on this
to make some money?" It's not until someone finds an answer to this
question that most of us even learn of a new technology. Exceptions abound,
of course, over the course of the space exploration effort, where the
government, anxious to justify its vast expenditures, has publicized newly
developed technology intended for application in the military or in space,
but for which undeveloped potential in the commercial world exists. The
military is somewhat more judicious about what it publicizes, but the same
principles apply.
> > I certainly hope you're joking!
> He is :)
> Gruss
> H.
> --
> VCF Europa 2.0 am 28./29. April 2001 in Muenchen
Received on Fri Jun 09 2000 - 20:15:01 BST

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Oct 10 2014 - 23:33:00 BST