Can a Standard Impeded Inventions?

English: The April 12 launch at Pad 39A of STS...

Image via Wikipedia

Although the following is sent out as a joke, it is reality.

When an organization attempts to protect its members by creating standards dozens of other issues are created. Here is an example of one of them.

Why are to boosters on the space shuttle 12.17 ft (3.71 m) in diameter? Because that is the width of two horses butts.

The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches.

Why was that gauge used? Well, because that’s the way they built them in England, and English engineers designed the first US railroads.

Why did the English build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the

Narrow gauge railroad (Feldbahn) in Geriatriez...

Image via Wikipedia

same people who built the wagon tramways, and that’s the gauge they used.

So, why did ‘they’ use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they had used for building wagons, which used that same wheel spacing.

Why did the wagons have that particularly odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break more often on some of the old, long distance roads in England. You see, that’s the spacing of the wheel ruts.

So who built those old rutted roads? Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (including England) for their legions. Those roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts in the roads? Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match or run the risk of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing. Therefore, the United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot.

So the next time you are handed a specification/procedure/process and wonder ‘What horse’s ass came up with this?’ you may be exactly right. Imperial Roman army chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses. (Two horses’ asses.)

Now, the twist to the story:

When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs would have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains, and the SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track, as you now know, is about as wide as two horses’ behinds.

Where am I going with this? Standards limit, rather than expand in many cases. Technology and inventions are limited to the technology that they are forced to conform too.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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