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On April 13, 1970, the oxygen fuel tank in Apollo 13 exploded, causing pressure in two of its three fuel cells to plummet. The astronauts were three-quarters of the way to the moon and speeding away from Earth at 2000 mph. The only practical way that they could return was to round the moon and depend on the gravity to fire them back like a slingshot, but this required more than their current supply of oxygen and electricity than they had. Their odds of dying were greater than their odds of surviving, yet all three astronauts landed back on Earth safely. How did that happen? It happened through the expert leadership and forward thinking of Gene Kranz, the flight director, and Jim Lovell, the ship commander.
Gene Kranzwas the mastermind and the stabilizing force behind the rescue plan. Without Gene Kranz, all three men would have died in space, and the story would have ended a lot differently. Gene Kranz immediately calmed down all of his men when he heard of the devastating news, showing an excellent leadership quality of level-headedness. Then he tells all of them to call their support teams and work the problem instead of guessing, because he understood that accuracy was extremely important. His forward thinking mind allowed him to make the right decisions and the first major one that he made to save the men was to close the react valves for fuel cells 1 and 3 and move the astronauts to the limb. Then, he immediately made a backup of all of the computer control data and moved it all to the limb before the command module died. Once he successfully moved the men there, he focused on the second part of his mission: getting the people home using as little power as possible. His second major decision was to use a free-return trajectory (the safest solution). Some of his men objected to it, saying that it was designed to do more, but Kranz countered by claiming that it didn’t matter what it was designed to do; what mattered was what it was meant to do. This displayed Kranz’s penchant for accuracy; he always tried to stay on the safe side in urgent situations, and tried to be as accurate as possible when decision making. He also instructed his people to turn down the power to 12 amps (meaning shut off heating, computers.etc) to give them enough time to reach Earth. To create enough options, Kranz ordered his men to create “reentry scenarios” while preaching to them “failure was not an option.” This demonstrated his confidence and determination to get the job done; by telling his men that failure was not allowed, Kranz forced them to think of a solution no matter what. After several hours of grueling planning and experimenting, they finally thought of a solution, and the men were saved.
Jim Lovell, the ship commander, also played a big role in saving his fellow astronauts’ lives as well. He showed the same forward thinking as Kranz when he decided to leave Mattingly behind and replace him with Swigert to keep the crew safe. Mattingly never got the measles, but in the event that he did, Lovell and his crew would still have been safe. Lovell also tried to keep everyone calm during the tribulation- when Haise starts to blame Swigert’s inexperience for the accident and the two start arguing, Lovell quickly squelched the argument while remaining focused on solving the problems at hand. Most importantly, although Kranz was the one who created the solutions, it was Lovell who executed these tasks and made sure that they were carried out properly. For example, at one point of the movie, the CO2 levels started rising in the cabin and were getting closer and closer to dangerous levels. The engineering team quickly invents a way to make the square filters fit inside the round receptacles, but it was Lovell who executed the plan, oversaw the progress and made sure it was being implemented properly. Lovell also proved that he was a problem solver when the crew needed an apparatus to help aim for the target (computers and GPS systems were shut down). He told Kranz that if he could see Earth within his window, he would be ok. This made it easier for Kranz to pinpoint the right target and aim correctly.
In the end, I can learn a lot from this story. I can learn the power of staying calm under all situations from Kranz. In high school, there are lots of ups and downs, and college and real life will only have more. Therefore, having level-headedness as a quality is very essential. I can also learn the forward-thinking mentality of Kranz and Lovell, and always try to stay several steps ahead to ensure a higher chance of success when solving a problem. All these things will be useful to my life later on.
“Apollo 13”. Director Ron Howard. Performers Tom Hanks, Ed Harris, Gary Sinise. Universal Pictures. 1995.
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