The Apple iPhone, which was launched five years ago, has generated $150 billion in total revenue for Apple, according to a report by Strategiv Analytics as reported by

That figure may not surprise you. By now, most people are used to hearing superlatives about Apple’s iPhone business.

The success of the iPhone has been so spectacular that most people forget that it was not always assured. In fact, many business analysts did not believe Apple could succeed in the smartphone market. Microsoft President Steve Balmer famously declared, on stage at a public conference, that it was “impossible for Apple to get any significant market share.”

People were especially skeptical about the iPhone’s radical touchscreen design. Touchscreens existed long before the iPhone, but they simply didn’t work very well. The iPhone completely redefined what a smartphone could do, and what users expected from a smartphone.

That’s innovation, as practiced in Silicon Valley. Then we have human spaceflight, where innovation is almost a dirty word.

When the Bush Administration announced its new Vision of Space Exploration in 2004, it practically boasted about the lack of innovation. Calling for NASA to develop a new Crew Exploration Vehicle, President George W. Bush emphasized that it would be “the first of its kind since the Apollo Command Module.” NASA Administrator Mike Griffin later called it “Apollo on steroids… very Apollo-like, except larger.”

Dr. John Logsdon, then director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, was supportive of these statements. “This is essentially a rejection of the notion that the only way to go to space is through advanced technology,” Logsdon said. “Let’s use what we know works.”

Imagine if Silicon Valley worked that way. Instead of a risky touchscreen device, Steve Jobs would have introduced a rotary-dial corded phone: “A Bell office phone on steroids.” Analysts like Logsdon would have praised Apple for using “What we know works.” And no one would have lined up at the Apple Store to buy one.

NASA has developed a fear of innovation. When Burt Rutan won the X-Prize with SpaceShip One, NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe said that he would be “fired” if he tried to do something so risky. SpaceShip One made the front page of every newspaper in the world, however, and O’Keefe flew all the way out to Mojave just so he could appear in front of the TV cameras and pretend NASA had something to do with it. Then he flew back to Washington and tried to pretend it didn’t exist. A few weeks later, the Bush Administration’s space-policy commission, headed by Edward Aldridge, released a report saying human spaceflight would “remain the providence [sic] of government” for the foreseeable future.

Is it any wonder that the average American considers NASA less relevant to his life than Apple and its competitors?

NASA’s politican masters don’t seem to care about innovation; they view NASA as a government jobs program. Here, too, the current policy is a failure. NASA has a total of 18,000 employees. Thanks to innovations like the iPhone, iPod, and iPad, Apple added 20,000 employees in 2011 alone.

Apple founder Steve Jobs said, “Don’t forget to leap before you look.” NASA has spent so much time looking at the possibilities and consequences of failure that it has forgotten to leap.

Written by Astro1 on June 28th, 2012 , Innovation, Space Exploration (General)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Tom Billings commented

    I think this is a subtler “waste anything but time” variant of the “Apollo Syndrome”. In the usual Apollo syndrome policy, we simply must have a big rocket to do anything worth doing in Space. In this variant, we see another aspect of the Apollo Program that does not translate to today, besides simple size. That is that Apollo, in particular the Saturn series, was specifically programmed to use older tech to race quickly towards high payloads in Space, and soon thereafter, to the Moon.

    For example, the Saturn 1 & 1b both used tankage from the Redstone and Jupiter programs, that first flew in 1953! The Saturn1 first stage used engines developed from the Jupiter’s engine, and a second stage that was to be a pre-developed Titan1 stage at first, and subsequently settling on using RL-10 engines from the previous Centaur program. The Saturn V itself was a very conservatively engineered vehicle, that broke little ground in the way of new technology. And that was appropriate when we had declared we were in a Moon Race, because new tech often takes more time to develop that we would like, or than we believed when we started.

    “Waste anything but time” was appropriate when we didn’t have time, and we were not in an atmosphere where development programs were milch cows for contractors primarily, but were first and foremost urgent national needs. Now we need tech that takes the time to not waste resources on speed of development as a first priority over operational efficiency.

    June 29, 2012 at 11:34 am
      admin commented

      Being innovative does not mean doing things slowly. Quite often the opposite, in fact.

      It’s hard to be innovative when you build a new vehicle once every 20-30 years. Look at Silicon Valley where it’s innovate or die. You won’t see 20-year plans. You will see short product cycles, skunk work projects, rapid prototyping, and open betas that are updated every few weeks.

      June 29, 2012 at 12:57 pm