“One small step for man” Innovation lessons from Apollo 11

Posted on: July 20, 2009

Apollo 11

Apollo 11

It is 40 years since Neil Armstrong stepped from the Lunar module into the Sea of Tranquility with those famous words to the rest of mankind.

Many people assumed then that by the 21st century space travel would be an everyday occurrence with holidays to space station hotels and the Moon as well as excursions to Venus and Mars.

Despite the innovation of the 1960’s which turned JFK’s dream into reality in less than 10 years,man never returned to the moon.

The  shuttle disasters showed us that space was a dangerous game and our discovery of the solar system has been left to unmanned probes and powerful telescopes.

Yet there are lessons to learn from those halycon days and over at Mind your own business, Guy Kingston writes about the six lessons from the Apollo programme.

They apply as much to innovation today as they did 40 years ago

1   Set definite objectives, with a timescale, and stick to them. President Kennedy’s 1961 proposal that America should put a man on the moon by the end of the decade is the model of a clear Mission Statement.

2   Expect setbacks. NASA faced disaster after disaster, above all the fire that killed three astronauts and nearly killed the Apollo Programme. They persevered.

3   Courage is rewarded. A computer warning suggested that Neil Armstrong should abort the landing at the last moment. He did not – as a result, everyone remembers Armstrong, no one remembers the computer.

4   Trust enterprise. Although NASA is a government organisation, most of its technology was developed by innovative private sector contractors.

5   “Blue Skies” research is a good investment. Technologies developed for the space programme influence almost every aspect of engineering and computer science today. Research which might seem theoretical at the time can yield huge returns later when its practical applications are discovered.

6   You will never convince everyone. Even today, there are people who say that they believe that the moon landings never happened – in the same way, even if you really do offer the best product in the world, there will always be some who refuse to believe you. It may be irritating, but you just have to accept it.


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