In 1961 when President Kennedy set what most perceived to be an overly ambitious goal of safely landing an American on the moon in less than 10 years, his sole objective was to pass the USSR in the race for space. No one could have imagined the thousands of by-products that would impact computer technology, environmental and resource management, health and medicine, industrial productivity, manufacturing technology, public safety, transportation, along with home, recreation and consumer products.
If it weren't for the space program we wouldn't have the iPad, iPod, CDs, DVDs, microcomputers or Wii virtual reality games. We wouldn't have non-invasive medical imaging devices. Automobile designers wouldn't have been able to benefit from aerodynamic design software. Air quality monitoring systems that have helped us to significantly improve our environment wouldn't exist. Photovoltaic solar systems wouldn't exist.
I also learned that NASA technology has been leveraged to produce enriched baby foods and water purification systems for underdeveloped countries. Scratch resistant lenses and ribbed swimsuits were also invented using space technology - even the DustBuster.
Maybe we're beginning to reach the point of diminishing returns relative to continued benefits associated with space program investment, but I doubt it. My point is that the investment of time, creativity and money in achieving monster goals will produce significant byproducts if we act with wide peripheral vision.
JFK's 10 year horizon looked impossible to reach, but look what his legacy has delivered 50 years later.
If you'd like to read about unplanned byproducts whose roots are in the space program, check out this article.