All week I've been stewing on the connection between landing on the moon and solving our climate, pollution, economic and security problems with fossil fuels. The two metaphors used for government initiatives are the Apollo Project and the Manhattan Project. The problem is that both the Apollo and the Manhattan Projects had clear goals (rocket/moon; atoms/bomb) while there is no clear goal or path to a single energy solution, but a need for many, and also a need for a marketplace robust enough to pick the winners among those solutions.
But then I happened upon the site NASA Spinoffs, which details thousands of things that were originally invented for the space program but have now become products in their own right. Many of these things relate to energy: More than a dozen solar innovations, a process for making trucks more aerodynamic, sophisticated wraps that trap heat in buildings, lithium batteries.. And then there's space food, temper foam, etc. Putting a man on the moon was only a midpoint in a massive push in basic science and applied technology, followed by a multi-decade process of commercialization. We need to ask ourselves whether we're going to get innovation on that scale from the fairly small investments we're currently making in alternative energy. (Here's a chart of what the DOE is doing with stimulus money.)