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science fiction theme : astronauts return with fantastic technology after a short time in space after learning how to think better after leaving earth.

Short story 40-60 years ago : name ? author?

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    This is incredibly vague. Do you remember the cover, if it's a short story or full novel, in an anthology, any additional details? If you do, edit them in so we can help. – user31178 Feb 21 '16 at 23:47
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Taking a rather wild guess based on your very limited info, I'll go with "The Gold at the Starbow's End" by Frederik Pohl.

The description from the link:

A short story based on an interesting premise that at some point in the (near) future, mankind will stop making interesting, fundamental discoveries because we have too much knowledge and too much apparatus around us. In the story, the Americans launch eight astronauts in a spaceship on a ten-year journey to Alpha Centauri to land on its habitable planet called “Alpha-Aleph”. The trouble is, the planet does not exist and the spaceship has only sufficient fuel to reach the star system. More damningly, the American President and a very small circle of science and political advisors have sanctioned this one-way suicide mission, fully aware that the planet does not exist.

The rationale for proceeding with this 40-billion dollar hoax is the strong desire to advance fundamental knowledge, backed by the theory that if you throw together a small group of very intelligent people in extended isolation, they will learn to use the meagre tools at their disposal along with raw brain power to make new discoveries in fundamental sciences, especially if such thought process is not aimed at making specific discoveries. So the astronauts are taught basic number theory and elements of human communication and told to think about these as “recreational puzzles” during the long voyage. A multi-billion dollar ivory tower in action.

If this is the story, it is a duplicate of this question "Story featuring smart people sent on a space mission to nowhere"

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