I just watched Apollo 13 yesterday for the first time. What struck me was not only the human drama of the three astronauts desperately trying to get back to earth, but the story of how a series of seemingly impossible events happened one after the other.
They seem to have begun in the fact that Jim Lovell and his crew were picked for the mission because of another astronaut’s ear infection. Then, health issues surfaced again when two days before launch, the pilot was exposed to the measles and replaced with another astronaut. It was up to Lovell to make the decision to either not go on that mission at that point or accept the new pilot. Lovell knew that the new pilot wasn’t as well-trained as he should be but he made the decision to accept him.
Those events seem pretty random – but as the drama unfolds – they were critically important.
Once in space – everything is going fine until the first seemingly impossible event – failure of the two oxygen tanks that supplied oxygen to the spacecraft and to the components. The engineers at NASA were dumbfounded – this had never happened before. They hadn’t planned for it – because they didn’t even conceive that it could happen.
The moon landing was scrubbed and the focus became how to get the astronauts back home alive. The crew had to rely on the lunar landing module for their journey back – a ship that wasn’t designed for space travel – it was designed for the moon landing – and they had to power it up in fifteen minutes, not the three hours that the procedure manual called for.
Considering where the astronauts were in space, the fuel they had left, the electrical supply they had left – the engineers at NASA determined that it was impossible to get them back to earth. This was not acceptable to Mission Control Director Gene Kranz. He and the team worked out a scenario that would use the moon’s gravitational pull to conserve power and got numbers on paper that would get the astronauts back to earth. But, this had never been done before and was pure mathematical speculation – but it was all they had. Kranz served as the driving force to the team in Mission Control with his words that failure was not an option. Everyone who could possibly provide answers was called in to help get the astronauts back to earth.
Another crisis – the CO2 levels were rising in the cabin and it seemed as if the astronauts were going to be killed by CO2 poisoning. Kranz called on his team to make use of what the astronauts had in the ship to solve this and using random pieces of equipment and duct tape – the engineers came up with a solution that worked. The seemingly impossible had been done again.
However, the astronauts still had to hit the earths atmosphere at a precise angle without the aid of the computer system for navigational guidance!! And the heat shields, which may have been damaged in the oxygen tank explosion had to hold together to keep the astronauts from being burned to death from the intense heat of re-entry to earth’s atmosphere.
Of course, as the story goes, they made it back safely – really against the odds.
So, why bring this up now? Because it reinforces my belief that anything is possible if the desire is strong enough. With failure not being an option – the engineers at Mission Control were forced to make the seemingly impossible possible over and over and they had to do it at a pace much faster than they were used to.
So, what’s seemingly impossible to you? What dream do you have that seems so out of reach that you don’t even try to go for it? Take a tip from the engineers at Mission Control – make the need that you attain this goal so strong – that nothing will stop you from achieving it. That desire, that emotion is the first step in having your dreams come true.
Trust in the process – it got three astronauts home from the moon – it can work for you.