Thursday, July 28, 2005

Words to live by

I've been re-reading Jim Lovell's 'Lost Moon' - the book he co-wrote with Jeffrey Kluger that details the events of Apollo 13. You might remember the movie with Tom Hanks.

The movie at one point had Gene Kranz saying "Failure is not an option" which while dramatic as all get out is something he didn't actually say. I found that the last time I'd read this copy I'd dog eared a page that has a passage that isn't nearly as pithy or dramatic but rings true.

On April 15 at 13:30 one of four LEM batteries exploded. Don Arabian, Mission Evaluation Room, diagnosed the problem and sat down over a quick working lunch with Jim McDivitt (head of the Apollo program office) and one rep each from Grumman and Eagle Picher, the contractor that manufactured the batteries in the LEM.

"Fellows," the MER chief said, tearing off a pizza slice and pushing the box across the table toward McDivitt, "we've been looking at the numbers, and the good news is, this is no big deal." He turned to the Eagle Picher engineer. "You agree?"
"No big deal," the engineer said.
"So the battery will stay on line?" McDivitt asked.
"It should," said Arabian.
"And we can make it back on the power we've got?"
"We should," Arabian said. "We were pulling fewer amps than we thought we would anyway, so we should stay within our margin of error."
"Then there wasn't an explosion?" the Grumman man asked.
"Oh, there was an explosion," Arabian said.
"But nothing actually .... blew up," the Grumman man amended.
"Sure it did," Arabian said, chewing pizza. "The battery blew up."
"But do we have to actually use that term? I mean, the battery's still operating. People get awfully excited when you say something blew up."
"What term would you suggest?"
The Grumman rep said nothing
"Look," Arabian said after a pause, "you know this is no problem and I know this is no problem. But if the battery screws up, I'm going to say so. And if a tank screws up, I'm going to say so. And if the crew screws up, I'm going to say so. Fellows, these are just systems, and if you're not honsest with yourself about what went wrong, you ain't gonna be able to fix anything."

Words to live by.
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