eMission control: Technology, science, policy crux of the matter

The effective reduction of air pollution will hinge on three factors: technology, science and policy. Not surprising since it is through technological innovation, scientific discovery and policymaking, mainly, that pollution in our air is present. It’s not rocket science, you know.

So, let’s take rocket development, since I brought rockets up, for example. And, in talking about the field itself, quite interestingly, as a matter of fact, it just so happens, technology, science and policy each played both a big and crucial role in its development. I’m not going to get into the minutiae; however, if you are interested in learning much more, you can check out detailed information here.

NASA’s Apollo Thirteen lunar mission liftoff

At any rate, as far as the science goes, the rocket requires a source of fuel to launch, fuel which requires on-rocket storage. A rocket must also have a means with which to make it launch – an engine of some sort. If the rocket is of a more sophisticated type, on board must also be some kind of guidance system. And, last but by no means least, the fuel with which to achieve liftoff, must be ignited. And, that is pretty much it. These are the basics.

Why I bring this up at all has to do with the idea that such development involves both science and technological innovation. And, in order to develop a viable space exploration program, a third factor or idea must be introduced: policy.

So, let’s now look more closely at each one of the three factors individually.


There is technology and there is engineering. The easiest way I can explain the difference is to provide an example of each.

Before I do that, to help clarify, while similar, engineering is a process whereas technology is a product or in some cases a service.

Take the railway and railway trains, as an example. If you take time and pay close attention, strings of either passenger or freight train cars take a certain amount of pull or push to overcome the coefficient of friction of wheels on rails. Initially, a means had to be devised that could provide the power necessary to overcome this wheel-rail interface friction coefficient. In the beginning, a horse or teams of horses sufficed. Or a cable on an incline railway was employed to achieve this end. Both of these were engineering solutions as primitive or simple as these were.

As for the wheels themselves, the idea was to keep them on the rails and prevent them from derailing. So, a flanged wheel was devised which provided for self-centering between two rails spaced a given distance apart from each other. This solution came to be because of engineering principles. In switching from one track to another, again, an engineering solution needed to be found and so the means through which to accomplish this was by way of what is referred to as a track switch.

One of the problems involved in trains switching tracks, is that the wheel rolling on one rail needed to cross the opposite rail when moving off of one set of rails onto another. So as to allow for the smooth transition, what is known as a “frog” was created expressly for this purpose. Thus the train could seamlessly transition from one track to another. For more information related to this, see “frog” here.

Railway switch

The engineering process is what allowed the rail, the wheel, the flange, the switch and the frog all to be produced. The rail, wheel, flange, switch and frog are all products and represent the technology utilized, all for the purpose of satisfying certain objectives.

The same could be said for the motive power that is responsible for moving the trains themselves.


Science permits progress to come about. Think about all the things humans have at our disposals. Think of all the household cleaning products. Furthermore, chemical products to control insects and pests, weeds, aid in the growth of plants and crops, keep our clothes fresh-smelling and clean, and on and on and on the list goes, all of these products have come about on account of science. But science is so much more as we shall see.

Webster defines “science” thus: “1. a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws. 2. systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation. 3. any of the branches of natural or physical science. 4. systematized knowledge in general. 5. knowledge, as of facts or principles; knowledge gained by systematic study. 6. a particular branch of knowledge. 7. any skill or technique that reflects a precise application of facts or principles.”1


Policy has to do with action, expediency, practical wisdom, prudence, according to Webster.2 Policy could guide individual action or expediency or could act as rule for guiding action or expediency for the larger group or community.

Webster is once again called upon, this time, to define policy. “Policy”: “1. a definite course of action adopted for the sake of expediency, facility, etc.: a new company policy. 2. a course of action adopted and pursued by a government, ruler, political party, etc.: U.S. trade policy. 3. action or procedure conforming to or considered with reference to prudence or expediency. 4. prudence, practical wisdom, or expediency. 5. government; polity.”2

In simple terms, establishing policy, as applied here, is for the express purpose of exercising control.

As a case in point, say pollution from a particular industry in one community, upwind of a second, drifts downwind thus negatively impacting the air in the downwind community. Folks in the affected community located downwind send a representative to the polluting industry asking for the industry’s cooperation in finding and in implementing the means necessary to curb the pollution released. The industry fails to act upon the downwind-community citizen request, thereby taking no action on its own to mitigate the pollution it creates. The folks living in the affected downwind community then plea to a regulatory body asking the regulatory body to intervene which the regulating body does and orders the polluting industry to comply with the policy or rule imposed by said regulatory authority. Mitigating action by the industry is taken and consequently emissions from the polluting industry in question are subsequently lowered to levels safe to the citizens in the community located downwind.

Air cleanup

The factors above, depending upon how applied, can lead to air-pollution reduction and/or air cleanup. Since the focus here is controlling emissions, technology, science and policy can be extremely helpful, important and valuable. Two together without the third in certain circumstances, might not be nearly as effective as all three combined.

Like I alluded to earlier, clearing up the air isn’t rocket science. What it essentially boils down to is first recognizing a problem exists and then finding the most effective and prudent way of undoing the air damage already done.

Once more, the aforementioned three factors are: Technology, science, policy. And, there you have it.


  1. Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, 1991, p. 1201
  2. Ibid. p. 1045

Images: NASA (upper); Oliver Brown (lower)

This post was last revised on Apr. 26, 2020 @ 12:50 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

– Alan Kandel

1 thought on “eMission control: Technology, science, policy crux of the matter”

  1. You have missed out the most important thing which will affect the desire for clean air and that is the amount we are suffering due to both climate change, restricted land mass and breathing difficulty. Only when these matters have passed the level of easy control will the world wake up to the fact that something urgently needs to be done. I’m glad I won’t be around then.

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