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Innovation Blog

 America’s Space Shuttle vs. Russia’s Soyuz:  Simplicity Defeats Complexity

By Shlomo Maital



Ray Kroc

With the last flight of America’s space shuttle, probably next June or earlier,  America will officially be unable to send manned vehicles into space, for at least five years and probably more.  That leaves Russia’s Soyuz rockets, launched from the space station in Baikanur, Kazakhstan, as the only way to send and retrieve cosmonauts and astronauts from the Space Station. 

    There is a major lesson to be learned here.  It has to do with simplicity.

    America’s Space Shuttle, like most of the hardware designed by American engineers, is complex and sophisticated.   Some of that complexity may have contributed to the two Space Shuttle disasters, one of which killed an Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon.  The complexity also made it very very expensive.

     Russia’s hardware, in particular its military hardware, has always been very durable, rugged and ultra-simple.  The ubiquitous Kalashnikov automatic rifle is an example. So are the Sukhoi fighters and bombers.  Stories are told of Sukhoi aircraft making emergency landings on their bellies – and being still able to fly.  (American aircraft would all be destroyed).   But the prime example is its Soyuz rocket.  It was first launched in 1968. Since then there have been over 450 launches.  The rocket is simple, durable, tough, not expensive (in relative terms) and highly reliable.  Note that there have been Russian fatalities in space – but mostly involving Soyuz space capsules, not the Soyuz rockets. 

      It is actually an American who first succeeded big-time through simplicity. McDonalds founder Ray Kroc originated the phrase Keep It Simple Stupid KISS.  He had a big sign above his desk and applied the idea religiously. (RISDI President John Maeda wrote a wonderful short book on The Laws of Simplicity, about which I blogged some time ago).   Perhaps, in politeness, we can do away with the second “S” (people who complicate are usually super-smart, not stupid).  Or let the second S stand for “Smartie”.  

   But always, always, innovators should recall  the faithful rugged Soyuz rocket – and make simplicity part of their daily core practices.




Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
October 2010
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