Saturday, April 13, 2013

"Houston, We've Got a Problem."

These are the worst words you can hear from the commander of a space capsule. More importantly, these are the worst words that commander will ever have to utter. The cold, harsh reality of space takes over at a time like that. You realize, possibly for the first time, that in spite of the team on the ground; essentially; you’re alone. Everybody else gets to go home for dinner, but not you.

Thursday was the anniversary of the launch of Apollo 13. If you, or your children, have never seen one of these blast-offs before- it’s worth watching for that alone. But the real meat of the story is told using clips of both the ground crew, and the astronauts themselves, as they rack their brains for a solution to the problem, which is carefully explained in the video. That problem occurred in the early hours of April 14th when an oxygen tank ruptured.

Ron Howard did an exceptional job with Tom Hanks in chronicling the Apollo 13 flight and it’s near disaster. But nothing can compete with the actual events, as evidenced in this short film from NASA, and available on you tube. Only some duct tape and a ballpoint pen saved the day for the crew. The ground support team worked long and hard to devise the “fix” that would allow the crew of Apollo 13 to return to Earth safely.

For several days the world watched and waited as the Apollo capsule got closer and closer to its scheduled splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.  Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert may not have made it to the Moon as planned, but they achieved something far greater in their victory over technology gone wrong almost 200,000 miles from the nearest repair facility. That they did so with an improvised solution, under such arduous conditions, made the feat all the greater. We had already been to the Moon and back. But this was a real “cliffhanger”, as the whole world watched and waited for their safe return.

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