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Space & the Internet

January 28, 2007 (23:05 CET)


NASA Administrator Michael Griffin is picking up steam in his speeches he is delivering all around the US and abroad on NASA's plans for the future. Here are two of his recent talks, one in Houston Texas, and one at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switserland. In the latter, I found a quote which resonates with a topic I am starting to get more and more curious about:

I am sure that many of you would agree with me that the greatest revolution in our productivity and way of life has been the development of the personal computer, internet and various handheld communication devices. Thirty-five years ago, engineers like me used three pieces of wood and a piece of plastic that moved -- the slide rule -- to make calculations. Thirty years ago, 1,000 transistors could fit on a silicon chip; today, it's 100 million. The cost of such chips has dropped by a factor of 100,000. Few people know that the development of the first microprocessors was born of a competition between Fairchild and Intel in the 1960s, to build components small enough to fit in NASA spacecraft. This straightforward NASA technical requirement spawned a whole new industry that grew in ways few, except perhaps Gordon Moore, could predict. Necessity is the mother of invention, and I believe that we are at our most creative when we embark on bold ventures like the space program.

The main point here is the relationship between the space endevour and the origins of the chip industry. With this year's 50th anniversary of the first satellite in orbit (Sputnik), it seems the most influential societal outcome of space exploration sofar has been the rise of the computer. I more and more like the term 'emerging technologies' in this respect. On a side note, the launch of Sputnik also stirred the creation of the US 'Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA)', which later during the Apollo days set up the precursor of the Internet known as ARPANET. I am interested to find out if there has been some more indepth study into this relationship.

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