Putting the ‘spin’ in spin-offs

I don’t much like the spin-offs argument for why we should have a space program. Here’s a good example of why. It’s a weak justification. If you can damn with a faint praise, the spin-off argument is damning with a weak justification. You don’t justify something like the space program on the basis of its serendipitous spin-offs – they’re just accidental bonuses along the way.

Having said that, the space program spawned at least one pretty big accidental bonus.

One thought on “Putting the ‘spin’ in spin-offs

  1. The problem is that most new technologies and discoveries occured while people were attempting to something else. Not just in the space program. Electrical engineers were completely satisfied with vacuum tubes. Because of this, they never asked the question about finding smaller and lighter elements to use in electronic devices. Whenever confronted with the need to create a new device that required electronic parts, their entire design started with the assumption that they needed to start with a vacuum tube. Antibiotics were discovered the same way. By accident. Most modern medicines are also discovered the same way, when they were looking for a medicine to cure something else or even for a chemical that was unrelated to the medical field.

    Science historians have noted that more scientific discoveries and technological advances have occured by serendipity than by setting out to purposefully discover them. “Fixity of purpose” tends to prevent people from seeing other possibilities. In any case, it has been the exception, rather than the rule, that new discoveries and devices have been created and then become commercial sucesses by people setting out to create them. Hell, even Tom Carvel and his soft serve ice cream was the result of an accident. Ice cream delivery truck breaks down, the owner does not want to lose it all, so he sells melting ice cream on the streets of a small New York town. The rest is history. Its not a trip to the moon, but the theory is not much different. The old cliche is that “Necessity is the mother of invention”.

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