From the Director: Being Both Lucky and Smart
DARPA’s new headquarters in Ballston
The cover story in Update this month is the founding of ARPANET in Arlington in the 1970s. ARPA was the original U.S. response to Sputnik, the first orbiting satellite for those too young to remember the beginning of the space race. ARPA was soon replaced by NASA and became an agency in search of a mission. The mission became general defense related research or as the current DARPA Director refers to it, they "take the impossible, convert it to the improbable, and make it inevitable."
For anyone interested in learning more about the history of the Internet, I recommend a book (of course) entitled Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon. It is a great read that shows how success truly has a thousand fathers, to paraphrase President Kennedy (although, remember that the Internet was invented in Arlington, officially, and we have the plaque to prove it). No one really knew where things were going, they just pulled one thread at a time and happenstances, along with brilliance, lead them to something that changed the lives of everyone in the world within a generation. I loved the final comment of the ARPANET founders at the dedication ceremony: "we were just lucky to have a chance to have so much fun."
Arlington has at least 2,000 DARPA staff and contractors that come to work everyday to work on “the impossible.” Add to DARPA the other federal research agencies in Ballston: the Office of Naval Research, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the National Science Foundation, along with the Virginia Tech Research Center, and we have perhaps the single largest cluster of scientific research existing anywhere in the world. There are few communities in the world that have a significant part of their employment engaged so dramatically in creating the future.
Arlington has been both lucky and smart. Lucky because we became the home of DARPA and the other agencies without really planning to do so. Smart because we recognized what we had and worked hard to keep the federal agencies and add Virginia Tech, which will dedicate their new building later this month. We are very proud to be the place where the impossible becomes the inevitable, everyday.