You and Neal both made some good points. I do think that path dependency and lock-in are very much present in the space industry, at least in my experience, but some of the changes he's proposing may be in fantasyland at this point. Space missions have a certain objective in mind, whether it's to sell phone time, sell imagery, or study geysers on a moon. The group that wants to do these things usually don't overly care how it's achieved as long as the objective is achieved, and it's as cheap as possible.
Rarely are aerospace companies in the business of trying out radical new designs because of the huge expense involved (typically). They want to make their shareholders happy, because it is a business after all. One word that is hugely important in the space business is the word legacy. When some satellite, rocket, or component has legacy, it means that it has flown before with mission-accomplishing results, and thus instills confidence in the product, and it will be a lot cheaper to build than the alternative. Program managers and board members would love nothing more than to have your spacecraft, rocket, and overall mission to be completely legacy-based. When something is completely legacy-based, it lacks innovation.
I think Neal's point is that rockets and satellites do not see huge amounts of innovation because of the crazy expense for the customer, so we tend to be path-dependent and locked-in to tried and true designs.
The real innovation is going to come from an ambitious young group that can find someone crazy enough to back them for years on end and make a business out of it. It's not going to come from big aerospace companies since all of those are held accountable by their shareholders. So yeah, this is in the sci-fi fantasyland category for now... until it happens.
"The goal is to make most choices meaningful, mathematics rarely has anything to do with that."
Ha, one could argue that mathematics is the only thing providing true meaning.
I've been a PC gamer ever since I loaded Might and Magic II on my AT&T 8088 PC with CGA display and 20 MB hard drive that my dad gave me when he bought his 386 sx. I still have the 5.25" floppies from that game, as a matter of fact, but of course I have it on CD now if I get the urge to indulge in nostalgia.
Over the last couple of years, however, I still have been buying PC games, but my affinity for them has dwindled. I played FFXI for a few years, jumping into WoW and back to FFXI again because WoW wasn't interesting enough for me, especially when I got into the endgame quests. A went back to FFXI for quite some time, and as much as I loved it, I had a hard time giving it the time commitment that so many players did without thinking much about it. Back then I played a lot of games, and I was on the computer after work several hours a day, and often times I would try to squeeze in another offline game while trying to keep up with the MMORPG.
I stopped playing MMORPGs about 2 years ago, and I don't miss the monthly fee and the amount of time I used to spend on gameplay resembling a carrot on a stick. I do miss the teamwork and the deep level of gameplay offered by FFXI. No single-player game that I've come across can match it, but I guess that's what the monthly fee is for.
Beyond MMORPGs, the PC gaming has really fallen from grace, in my opinion. I could go on and on about horrible DRM practices, but some of the problem is due to cheap development efforts as well. Most big-name titles feel to me like I'm playing a console game rather than a native PC game, like Fallout 3/Oblivion, Far Cry 2, Gears of War, Bioshock, etc. (What do you mean I can't use "M" for "map?") Once in a while, someone does a good port, like Mass Effect (never mind the DRM issues). I'm wondering why I even bother keeping up with the PC anymore. Nowadays, I reserve it for the few real-time strategies I play on occasion, but even my RPG fix comes from the PS3 now, and I've actually resorted to playing old PS1 games again because the enjoyable RPG games are few and far between without having to pay a monthly fee.
I'm looking forward to FFXIII, whenever that comes along.
"Why should we subsidize intellectual curiosity?" -Ronald Reagan