My apologies once more for a lack of posting, but it’s been another of those weeks. I’m taking a few minutes break from a task and have had the television tuned to the movie, “Apollo 13” with it’s incredible cast of stars. I’ve always enjoyed the movie for a lot of reasons and it’s especially great if you want to use a movie that demonstrates problem solving and leadership. The two most memorable phrases of course are, “Houston, we have a problem,” and “Failure is not an option.” (That phrase is often used inappropriately, but that’s a topic for another post.) One of my favorite lines though comes just after the explosion on the craft as no one knows quite what has happened. Everyone is looking at their instruments and Ed Harris, who plays Flight Director Gene Krantz is asking one of the men what’s going on. “It’s reading a quadruple failure. That’s not possible – I’ll get back to you, Flight.” Except it was very possible and in the six (or maybe seven) days that followed, a great many things that had been considered “not possible” occurred. A huge number of individuals were required to come up with solutions for things that had simply not been imagined as going wrong and in each case, the people thought through the problem and worked it out.
Another irony that I’ve always wondered about is that Astronaut Ken Mattingly was replaced on the mission by Jack Swigert at a very late date because NASA was concerned that Mattingly would break out with the measles during the mission. To disrupt a well-functioning team is never something to be done lightly and inserting a new member at that point did have some drawbacks. However, it was Mattingly who figured out how to re-sequence the re-entry of the crippled spacecraft. Quite simply, there may have been no other person who could have worked that out – Mattingly not being in space was a significant reason why the astronauts were able to successfully return to earth.
Not too long ago, I watched a “making of” segment that was part of the real story of Apollo 13 and there was this one scene they discussed with Director Ron Howard where tempers had flared in the movie. The truth was that scene did not occur in real life and when asked about it, Howard readily acknowledged he had taken dramatic license in a few spots. Why? Because the reality was that people had remained remarkably calm, all working to the very best of their ability to solve the crisis. As Howard said, “I was making a movie and we had to have at least a little conflict.” (Not his exact words, but close.)