The Crawler

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Jun 1, 2011    •    668 Views

The fuel economy window sticker for this vehicle would say 1 gallon per 32 feet. Called the crawler, it travels on a roadway 3.5 miles long, could carry 18 million pounds, and moves no faster than 2 mph. The crawler takes the space shuttle to its launchpad.

With the last space shuttle scheduled for July 8, the crawler is at the end of its long life. However, the knowledge it generated will live onward. Similarly, technology targeted for the space program was spun off to private industry. Temper foam? Now in mattresses. Vibration analysis? Used in guitars. Space suit technology? Found in sneakers.

The Economic Lesson

As economists, the Crawler takes us to the spillovers and positive externalities of the space program.  With a spillover, others enjoy the benefits of a project originally involving a small group. Similarly, with a positive externality, a transaction between two individuals beneficially affects a third party. A vaccine for example, creates a positive externality. Yes, it benefits the person receiving it. But then, many others also remain healthy.

Originally involving 2 entities, NASA and its sub contractors, NASA technology will ripple outward to benefit many.

An Economic Question: From which positive externality might you benefit?

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