A interesting essay by Neal Stephenson about rockets as a lesson in innovation.
To employ a commonly used metaphor, our current proficiency in rocket-building is the result of a hill-climbing approach; we started at one place on the technological landscape—which must be considered a random pick, given that it was chosen for dubious reasons by a maniac—and climbed the hill from there, looking for small steps that could be taken to increase the size and efficiency of the device. Sixty years and a couple of trillion dollars later, we have reached a place that is infinitesimally close to the top of that hill. Rockets are as close to perfect as they’re ever going to get. For a few more billion dollars we might be able to achieve a microscopic improvement in efficiency or reliability, but to make any game-changing improvements is not merely expensive; it’s a physical impossibility.
There is no shortage of proposals for radically innovative space launch schemes that, if they worked, would get us across the valley to other hilltops considerably higher than the one we are standing on now—high enough to bring the cost and risk of space launch down to the point where fundamentally new things could begin happening in outer space. But we are not making any serious effort as a society to cross those valleys. It is not clear why.
If you read the article, be sure to read the comments too — there’s some interesting stuff going on there.
Have an amazing project to share? Join the SHOW-AND-TELL every Wednesday night at 7:30pm ET on Google+ Hangouts.
Join us every Wednesday night at 8pm ET for Ask an Engineer!
Learn resistor values with Mho’s Resistance or get the best electronics calculator for engineers “Circuit Playground” – Adafruit’s Apps!
Maker Business — Samsung & Batteries
Wearables — Vintage cosplay resources
Electronics — Hummm… 60Hz noise in your amplifier driving you nuts?
Biohacking — Logging the Temperature Around Me
No comments yet.
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.