Say Goodbye to Technology Leadership

Wayne Rash
The space shuttle Endeavour left the Earth for the last time to spend a couple of weeks at the space station. While there, Endeavour will complete a couple of scientific firsts, including installing a supercooled magnetic tunnel-shaped particle detector that may tell us things about what makes the universe tick. Or it may not.

The shuttle will also launch a cloud of tiny satellites - they're about the size of a nickel - that are the prototypes for nano-satellites that may one day drift with the solar wind. These will be placed on the outside of the space station for easy retrieval. Through these and other experiments, it's clear that manned spaceflight is critical for the groundbreaking research we need to advance the growth of technology.

But we're about to call it quits on research like this. Endeavour is the shuttle program's penultimate flight. When the final shuttle lands this summer, the program ends, and with it manned spaceflight by the U.S. ends. We are turning our backs on space. We are calling it quits.

I realize that writing about space in a blog aimed at IT may appear strange, but remember, many of the technological advances we depend on in information technology got their start in the space program. Scientific research sponsored by NASA and a wide variety of aerospace contractors supporting NASA was a primary driver of innovation. It's hard to imagine where we'd be today without it.

The problem is that manned spaceflight is hard. Sometimes it's dangerous. And because it's hard and dangerous, we're giving up. We're letting others take the lead in the discoveries, the technology advances and the technology leadership. No longer will the U.S. be the home of innovation and invention. Instead that will move to the Europeans, India and China. As they move on to the Moon and perhaps to Mars, we'll focus on making a better movie player.

Unfortunately, when the spirit of innovation leaves the U.S. so will the motivation for people to study things like engineering and physics and even computer science. Your employee pool will effectively vanish. Without the excitement and commitment to do things that are hard, we'll turn to things that are easy and self-satisfying.

I should note that being self-satisfied doesn't do much for leadership, innovation or even just trying to make your data center work better. Instead, it simply leads inexorably downward. As far as the history of science and technology is concerned, this is the year we go from being leaders to being losers. 

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May 19, 2011 9:05 PM Gary Gary  says:
Another note for your webmaster... "Lines and paragraphs break automatically" - no they don't. Reply
May 19, 2011 9:05 PM Gary Gary  says:
Wayne - sorry to "highjack" your post with this comment, but the title grabbed me as most appropriate. This is a comment for the site's webmaster(s). I discovered CTO Edge when a number of interesting links led to your site a while back. I was sufficiently impressed that I decided to add your RSS feed to my collection in Google Reader - get the stories straight from the horse's mouth, as it were. What I hadn't realised at the time was that your RSS feed is, if not exactly broken, not configured in a similar manner to 99% of other blogs. All I see is a title and the author. There's no summary, extract or otherwise from the post to allow me to decide whether or not to read the full article. As a result, with so many other articles competing for my time, I rarely followed up on any of the posts. So, this is me saying goodbye to CTO Edge - I have just deleted your feed from Google Reader. Au revoir, toodle-oo, goodbye. Reply

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