I love From the Earth to the Moon, especially this episode (Spider). This scenario demonstrates something I run into with software development all the time. Frequently, the engineers or developers working on a product come up with novel or unorthodox ideas that project leads are reluctant to go along with. In those situations, sometimes it’s best to just hammer out a prototype and demo the idea.
Just as happens in the video, sometimes work on an “unauthorized” prototype should be done outside of normal paid time, if for no other reason then as protection in case it doesn’t fly. It’s also important to understand that the lead must also sell the idea to his or her superiors, so even if you convince the lead, it may not go anywhere. I would imagine that the manager here had a hard time selling this to NASA.
I’m not saying, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than to ask for permission”, but if done correctly, helping them see it can produce better software and make a developer a hero in the process.