NASA and Silicon Valley have been intertwined for quite a long time, longer than NASA has been around, before Intel started revolutionizing the computer chipmaking industry, all the way back to the 1930s, when the San Jose Mercury Herald wrote, "Industries allied to aviation will spring up like mushrooms, each bringing its own payroll."
The article was off in that the big spur in the development of Silicon Valley ended up being space flight rather than aviation, but it was otherwise spot on in calling the explosion of technology companies in the area. When the U.S. government opened the purse strings for the Apollo program, the vast amount of funds contributed to the development of the technologies underlying the Internet, computers, and the massive list of consumer electronics available today.
How NASA helped invent Silicon Valley (News.com)
High tech industries in Silicon Valley started with radio in the early 1900s, when a Stanford graduate named Cyril Elwell started applying for patents and then formed a company called Federal Telegraph, which got a major boost when the U.S. military started using its technology during WWI. Since then, Silicon Valley has seen many technology startup companies become major players, starting with Hewlett-Packard and continuing through the modern day, with NASA sponsoring events like the Space 2006 Conference.
The synergy continues to this day, with Silicon Valley giving back to NASA in the form of a $1.3 million per year deal between Google and NASA, which allows Google executives to park their corporate jets at Moffett field, a NASA operated airfield, just four miles from Google headquarters.NASA Co-Sponsors Space 2006 Conference in Silicon Valley (NASA press release) Google Founders’ Ultimate Perk: A NASA Runway (New York Times)
Space exploration is a subject near and dear to me, as my family has been involved with the space program and NASA for quite some time. In my immediate family, my mother still works for NASA, her husband retired from NASA after a career that started in mission control during the Apollo program, my father worked for several aerospace companies, including Lockheed-Martin, where he was on the International Space Station simulator project. In addition, my wife has recently opened up an Internet-based retail store selling space-related novelties, so space is definitely in my blood and in my soul.
What do you see as some of the most important contributions of the space program? Many people point to the vast array of consumer products like Velcro and scratch resistant lenses, medical advancements like digital imaging breast biopsies and laser angiograms, or sports advancements like ribbed swimsuits or improved golf ball aerodynamics. Personally, I think the most enduring gift of the space program is the belief that if we choose to devote the resources, human beings can accomplish anything.