Brave and meaningful deeds are mostly born out of necessity. If there is no necessity – If people are content, for example - they generally don’t see the need to change anything. Their willingness to take risks is low anyway and heroic acts are a scarce commodity. External pressures such as military or economic crises are what move us to action. They make people rise beyond their abilities, accomplish the unimaginable and give birth to heroes, legends and cult brands.
Why do we find it so hard to innovate and develop? Henry Ford once said: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” On the subject of horse power, Porsche almost had to go bankrupt in the 90s to raise itself like phoenix from the ashes through courageous management decisions, consulting support from Toyota and a financial injection from VW. But many overlook the point of no return and only react when it’s too late. And then often incorrectly: To drag themselves into the next quarter, they simply sell the most profitable division. And thus their future is revealed. Companies that are not constantly reinventing themselves threaten to disappear from sight.
There are of course exceptions. The legendary moon landing is one. People searched deep within themselves for a challenge, defying any risk, without knowing how it would end, where it would lead or even what the ROI would be. They just wanted to get better, defend their position as “market leader”, and do as much as possible for human advancement. Exactly because it was difficult, perhaps almost impossible. Space travel is a triumph of the mind and at the same time a failure of reason. What can we learn from it? Pioneering spirit, intuition, courage, determination, teamwork and a good dose of curiosity.
In spite of this, people still ask what space travel actually achieved and whether this huge amount of money couldn’t have been spent more usefully elsewhere. To answer these people: if you are happy to live without calculators, wireless networks, mobile communications, fuel cells, ceramic brake discs, cordless drills and weather forecasts, then sure. Aerospace apparel inspired protective suits for firefighters and motorcyclists, and a method of predicting the location of black holes developed into a method for the early detection of skin cancer. The ESA has compiled a list of over 850 examples of how space exploration has impacted our everyday lives.
Today, since we can do complex calculations, we know that for every dollar paid in, the US taxpayer has received $14 back.