Bureaucratise Innovation (NASA)

"...The moonshot was a triumph of management as much as engineering. Meeting a fixed launch deadline meant working backwards to identify the points by which thousands of sub-systems had to be ready for testing and integration, and further back to the date by which they had to be designed and ordered......the need to prototype rapidly and cheaply and to be ready to kill any moonshot in its early stages..."

Thomas Haigh 2019

NASA had agreed to non-negotiable goals for the moonshot in 1961

- time (end of 1969)

- scope (sending, landing and returning a man to and from the moon)

In 1961when these goals were set

"...NASA had only achieved in just 15 minutes of manned flight in space and its managers had not even decided whether to launch a single integrated spacecraft or send a module..."
Thomas Haigh 2019

Thus NASA needed

- fundamental scientific break-throughs to handle the challenges

- considerable money to mitigate risks

- to push existing technologies to extreme levels of performance and reliability

- miniaturisation

- systems to handle hundreds of subcontractors

NASA attempted to bureaucratise innovation, ie

"...rather than attempt to do lots of new things at once, an approach that had produced problems in the early US space program......(NASA) mandated a careful step-by-step approach..."

Thomas Haigh 2019

Despite this careful approach, the fixed deadline caused major problems like Apollo 1 crew killed when a fire engulfed their capsule in a ground test in January 1967. NASA was too focused on achieving their schedule. In 1962, Kennedy statement

"...'we choose to go to the moon in this decade......not because it is easy, but because it is hard.' His moonshot was about spending $US 25 billion to do something absurdly difficult, with no direct economic return..."

Thomas Haigh 2019

On the other hand, there have been large flow-ons from technological advances developed during the moon shot, eg software, integrated circuits and microchips, CAT scans, wireless technology, solar panels, fireproof materials, miniaturisation, etc. Also, some NASA staff went on to use their learnings in other industries.

The trip to the moon and back was a very risky exercise, ie

"...So many things had to come together perfectly, so many things could have gone wrong. It was not just the complexity of building a rocket to take the astronauts out of the Earth's atmosphere, it was the precise timing required to jettison redundant parts of the craft, to arrive at a pre-planned destination, and later to re-establish contact with the lunar module..."

John McDonald 2019

 

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