readers will recall that back in January, along with my friend Arnaud, I started a reading group on the topic of “Organising Genius”. The pandemic forced a hiatus, but I’m delighted that we’re now restarting remotely; the next session is on Silicon Valley and MIT. You can learn more and sign up here
. This week Ryan Khurana has an excellent essay
on the Apollo Missions, the focus of our last pre-lockdown session. It’s based on Charles Fishman’s One Giant Leap
, which I also recommend.
It strikes me that Apollo has two important lessons for governments thinking about how to invest in technology today, (as for example the UK Government’s plans for ARPA - see previous coverage
). The first is that, if successful, the cultural impact of a successful “moonshot” will far outweigh the short-run economic impact. As Khurana notes, Apollo shifted the cultural association of the idea of “technology” from the violence of the B-29 bomber to the optimism of the moon landing, as well as attracting countless students into science.
Second, Apollo demonstrated the ability of a government to drag technology from the future into the present through visionary procurement. NASA’s demand created the market for integrated circuits - and ensured that the price fell by 90% in five years. Apollo effectively kicked off Moore’s Law before Moore even coined the term. On both counts, something analogous is possible - and desirable - today.