Shooting for Mars May Help Us on Earth

November 24, 2009  

At the TEDx NASA conference, I had some amazing conversations with people in the “green room” while preparing to take the stage.

One individual had spent his entire career with NASA focused on travel to Mars.  This was his life’s passion.  But now that he has moved out of the space program into the private sector, he wonders if the money spent on space travel should be re-focused.  He wonders if we should spend the money fixing problems here on earth.

We had a lively debate.  One thing I suggested was that shooting for Mars MIGHT be the way to fix some of our issues here on earth.

Shooting for Mars

From my experience, when trying to solve problems, we attempt to move from point A (where we are today) to point B (where we want to go).  But often we fall short and end up at A’ (as depicted in the graphic on the left).

However, if we shoot for point C, even if we fall short, we might just hit point B.

You can debate the value of flying to the moon or looking for life on Mars.  But it is hard to debate the incredible technologies that have been developed as part of the space program and how they are integrated into every day life.

There is a great webpage that lists a number of these spin-offs.  One example spin-off from the Hubble telescope is the use of its Charge Coupled Device (CCD) chips for digital imaging breast biopsies. According to the website – “The resulting device images breast tissue more clearly and efficiently than other existing technologies. The CCD chips are so advanced that they can detect the minute differences between a malignant or benign tumor without the need for a surgical biopsy. This saves the patient weeks of recovery time and the cost for this procedure is hundreds of dollars vs. thousands for a surgical biopsy. With over 500,000 women needing biopsies a year the economic benefit, per year, is tremendous and it greatly reduces the pain, scarring, radiation exposure, time, and money associated with surgical biopsies.”

The site continues to make a compelling case for why space program investments are good investments.

Here’s the question for you and your innovation efforts…

How often do you shoot for “B” and miss the mark?  What if you shot for “C,” fell short and hit “B” instead?

Instead of just going for what seems possible, shoot for the seemingly impossible.  Try wild and crazy ideas.

I discussed the general concept of making the impossible possible in an entry called “The Magic of Innovation.”  Be sure to check it out.

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