Sunday, June 15, 2008

Moon men, my fears, and commitments redux

I just finished watching the latest episode of the new documentary of the U.S. space program, When We Left Earth. The focus and dedication of everyone in that program are inspirational.

It's astonishing how quickly they advanced their technology and experience, making great leaps forward on every single mission on their relentless march to the moon. It's also amazing the risks they faced, and how courageously they faced those risks.

One of the Apollo astronauts, being interviewed recently for the series, said that on the eve of his launch, he thought his mission had about a one third chance of complete success. He also figured there was a one third chance he wouldn't make it back.

One of the wives of an astronaut on an earlier mission recalled asking the flight director what the odds were that her husband would come home. He told her he thought they had a 50% chance -- and she was relieved because "that was a lot better than I had been thinking."

The episode closed with the words of Gene Kranz, the flight director on the Apollo program who was instrumental in saving the crew of Apollo 13. He said: "The power of space was to raise our aspirations to those things that are possible, if we will commit." (Emphasis his.)

Wow, that resonated with me, particularly given my previous musings on commitment. Here's the man that got us to the moon, and he's saying the single condition of making the impossible possible is commitment.

The truth is, I'm scared of the helicopter. I know I will be scared of the heights. I'm very scared of coming home and having to tell all my family and friends that I couldn't do it, I didn't do it, because I was too afraid (and irrationally afraid, at that.)

But if those guys can send men to the moon, and bring them back when their spacecraft is falling apart all around them, then I can fly a fucking helicopter.

Which brings me to some (more famous) words by flight director Kranz, spoken forty years ago to his team after an onboard explosion caused Apollo 13 to begin rapidly losing oxygen and power:

"Failure is not an option."

Well, that's just another way of saying commitment. Thank you, Gene.

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