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But then the million dollar question is, why did the US spend the money on Apollo, and not directly on chip research? Especially as guided missiles needing chips were not exactly unimportant outside of the Apollo/manned space flight program.
by GreatZamfir on Fri Feb 22nd, 2008 at 05:01:44 AM EST
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Three related reasons: Sputnik angst, there was a race with the Soviet Union in every field, and areospace technology development for military purposes.

But the fact is, the Apollo program was a one-shot thing. It was wound down and the US lost its ability to fly to the moon. It also discontinued its high-payload rockets in favour of the Space Shuttle, so now the rocket market is occupied by the European Ariane and the Russian Proton.

The Soviet manned space program made more scientific and technical sense than the American one, and the ISS owes more to the Russian Soyuz and Mir than to the American Skylab, which was also discontinued and folded into the Shuttle.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Feb 22nd, 2008 at 05:12:22 AM EST
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Yeah, I know. I am a final year student aerospace engineering, so I have heard my fair share of space histories...

One sidestory that I found particularly intriguing was a note between, I think, McNamara and Lyndon Johnson, in the early 60s. In it they discuss the budget surplusses they are expecting for the late '60s, and they fear Congress will call for tax reductions before they can use the surplusses for their Great Society plans. So in the meantime they think Apollo a good and popular method to keep the budget balanced until they have better things to do with the money. Then came Vietnam...

But more on topic, the whole 'spin-off' concept seems pretty much invented by NASA in later years to justify their budgets, and it is used for so many 'big science & engineering' projects when the wider public has doubts about the costs.    

by GreatZamfir on Fri Feb 22nd, 2008 at 05:38:00 AM EST
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(1) Spend money on chip research for what? What would the chips be used for? The great proliferation of electronics came on the back of very advanced requirements for components for space programs, etc. One could argue that only once they had been developed for such purposes were it possible to consider their use for more mundane matters. The personal computer only became possible with a maturation of integrated circuit technology, computation infrastructure, and computational techniques that allowed for cheap mass manufacture. The driver for this technology were expensive research programmes in fields requiring processing of large data sets, such as say high energy physics research. Forget about the direct spinoffs, I would argue that the influences of these expensive programmes are far more subtile.  Technological diffusion requires that the basic building blocks are already lying about looking for a different application. You don't start developing processor technology because you think that in 20 years you'll be able to make a machine to play games on.

(2) Missile programmes you say? Because military programmes with large destructive potential are soooo useful while high energy physics, space exploration and the like are vanity projects! And you know how the military loves to share the technology it develops and would not like to keep it secret. One of the great advantages of the large lab high energy physics environment is exactly that it is not a military programme. We don't build things to kill people, I think this is a plus. Further, there is not a tendency to keep progress secret. Quite the opposite in fact, thus a greater chance that progress made here can defuse faster and wider.

(Disclosure, I work at CERN.)

by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Fri Feb 22nd, 2008 at 06:06:35 AM EST
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In other words (and this ties in with my comments on the HTML subthread), technological progress is largely demand-driven. If you want progress you have to create demand for advanced technology. You can choose the form your keynesian stimulus will take: will it be bis science or big guns? And other public spending is also in the same category? Do you want to drive development of medical treatment? Improvements in construction techniques and materials? Improvements in transportation technology? Energy technology? The way to do this is to publicly fund projects which push the boundaries of what's possible. The private sector could do this, too, but they can't afford the solvency risk of sinking money into failed research. The public sector can. It's just a matter of priorities.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Feb 22nd, 2008 at 06:42:09 AM EST
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I think Apollo was a product, not a cause. After Sputnik there was a massive push towards science and engineering in the US, and Apollo fell out of that. So did most of the computer industry.

There's very little evidence to suggest that Apollo contributed directly to electronic design. The first patent for single-chip microcircuitry was granted in 1958. Computers with modular logic were built around the same time. Putting the two together was an next obvious step, and would have happened anyway.

Apollo was mostly a PR exercise for US science and engineering. There may have been some spin-offs in materials science and - obviously - rocket science. But Apollo hasn't left much of a trace in computer science history.

In fact it's rarely mentioned at all. Projects like SAGE, which was the first generation US air defence network, were much more important. NASA did buy a big IBM System/360 for Apollo, but System/360 was already around, and IBM were more interested in selling it as a tool for airline bookings than managing a space program with it.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Feb 22nd, 2008 at 08:35:45 AM EST
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One bit of hearsay lore that I picked up somewhere (probably on TV) is that the physical space constraints inherent in spacecraft design prompted Apollo scientists and related engineers in various indsutries to work on making things like transistors work in a practical setting, as the existing vacuum-tube technologies were simply too big.
by Zwackus on Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 12:51:39 AM EST
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I don't think it's about volume, weight is more likely, and I think it was mainly the Minuteman program that really required them. But I would suggest this was only a slight influence. People tried to build integrated circuits all through the 50s,and the first succesful ones  were somewhere around 1960. So there might have been a few years  when rocket programs were the main users,  between their development and first commercial use in the mid-60s.

Keep in mind that the big advantage of ICs, even those years, was the possibility to get prices down through mass production. Not really something the space program, or even Minuteman was very concerned about.

by GreatZamfir on Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 03:57:56 AM EST
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