Sunday, December 14, 2014

Failure is not an Option!

Last week, I attended the annual convention of the International Council of Air Shows, held each year in Las Vegas, Nevada. 

This year, I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with Gene Kranz.  Gene was the NASA Flight Director on Apollo 13.  He and his crew managed to safely return the three man crew of Apollo 13 back to Earth, after a disastrous failure of their spaceship.  His leadership is credited with that rescue.   Every challenge (and there were dozens) was faced with a steadfast determination to bring those astronauts home safe.  The phrase, "Failure is not an option!" is credited to Kranz.

I asked him if there was anything that they could have done better in that tense four day rescue.  His answer surprised me.

He said that their communication with the astronauts was not as good as it should have been.  Everyone could hear each other perfectly, but sometimes some things were misunderstood.  His example was the water issue.  The fight team on the ground mentioned to the crew that they were concerned about water aboard the ship.  The astronauts thought that meant they needed to ration water intake, while in reality the concern was about the condensing water on the inside of the spacecraft.  The astronauts were rationing their water intake when, in reality there was lots of water on board. 

Their rationing was not required an had no impact on the successful rescue.  In fact, it made their trip back to earth somewhat less comfortable.

Communication is a volatile thing.  You think you communicated something clearly, and yet the person on the other end completely misunderstood it.  When I'm communicating with others, I'm going to try and remember Gene's example of the water issue on Apollo 13.

Gene said something else that impressed me;  "When overcoming challenges and finding solutions, you have to believe in it, your crew has to believe in it, and then you have to make it happen."

1 comment:

  1. There was a great TV series on Discovery about five years ago called When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions. Gene Kranz was extensively interviewed in that series; his hair hasn't changed for 50 years! Cool guy.

    The quote "Failure is not an option," attributed to Kranz, actually came from the mind of a writer of the 1995 movie Apollo 13. It was originally attributed to something a flight controller named Jerry Bostick had said, during one of his meetings with the movie producers who wanted to re-create the atmosphere of Mission Control during the accident.

    Kranz has since adopted it as a 'slogan,' and title of his books.