What has history taught us about world-changing ideas? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Safi Bahcall, Biotech Entrepreneur and Author of Loonshots, on Quora:

The most important breakthroughs--the ones that change the course of science, business, or history--are fragile. They're rarely announced with blaring trumpets and a red carpet, dazzling everyone with their brilliance.

Instead, they often arrive covered in warts--the failures and seemingly obvious reasons they could never work that make them so easy to dismiss. They pass through long dark tunnels of skepticism and uncertainty, their champions dismissed as crazy. That's why I call them loonshots.

For example, when President John F. Kennedy announced to Congress in 1961 his goal of putting a man on the moon, he was widely applauded. Four decades earlier, though, when Robert Goddard described the principles that might get us to the moon--jet propulsion and rocket flight--he'd been widely ridiculed.

The New York Times, for example, wrote in an editorial that Goddard didn't seem to understand the basic physics that we teach children in high school, namely that Newton's law on action and reaction made rocket flight in space impossible. (Years later, after the successful Apollo 11 rocket launch to the moon, the paper issued a retraction, saying that rockets did not in fact violate the laws of physics and "the Times regrets the error.")

Kennedy's speech marked the original moonshot. Goddard's idea was a classic loonshot.

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Published on: Mar 18, 2019