Archive for April, 2010
Steven Henricksen, a long time friend of mine from back in Jr. High School, sent me this nifty tribute to the team that brought Apollo 13 back home safely, on this, the anniversary of what could have been NASA’s Darkest Day, but turned into their finest hour. Steve and I met in 1981 in 8th grade, played in band, and shared a love of Star Trek. We worked for the community Municipal Band and were part of the stage crew who recorded the concerts and set up the stage… we would trade quips and quotes of Captain Kirk and the crew while we worked in the summer sun. Some fun memories with him, and I’m pleased to post his piece:
I began a career in Information Technology and as time went on I became interested in project management techniques, reading biography’s of great leaders. I had always been interested in NASA; I remember watching Apollo 17, Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz, and the early Shuttle missions with great interest. Around the turn of the century there was an explosion of NASA biographies. I came across Gene Kranz’s book, “Failure is not an Option”, his ability to plan for every contingency and his “Tough and Competent” speech after the Apollo 1 fire made him the ultimate project manager in my eyes. What Dr Gilruth, Chris Kraft, Gene Kranz among the countless others within NASA were able to do to meet Kennedy’s challenge is truly one of the greatest human achievements, sending men where no man had gone before.
Steven Henricksen, April 2010
A tale of two commanders.
Early in Star Trek II the Wrath of Khan, Kirk states “A no win situation is a possibility every commander must face”. On April 13th, 1970, Gene Kranz and his “White Team” would face NASA’s penultimate Kobayashi Maru with the lives of the crew of Apollo 13 on the line 200,000 miles from Earth. The outcome of Apollo 1 was the outcome of most no-win scenarios. There were no options, the crew had about 14 seconds before the smoke in the Command Module overcame them. Apollo 13 would be different, they had options and they had teams on the ground that would find them and execute them.
Kirk’s first tangle with Khan and the Reliant was self inflicted, had he followed a simple Star Fleet general order we would have not had one of the best Star Trek movies ever made. No one would know for a couple months that a frayed wire in one of the three oxygen tanks on board the Apollo 13 Service Module (SM) was the cause of the explosion that crippled the SM.
In both cases the commanders, Admiral Kirk on the Enterprise and Gene Kranz at the NASA MOCR, would stall for time searching for a root cause and a way out of a self inflicted mess. Both men would keep their crews alive because of their extensive knowledge of their ships. Kranz’s team would buy time using the Landing Module (LM) Aquarius as a life boat, Kirk would buy time with the Reliant’s prefix code taking out Reliant’s Warp drive and leveling the playing field.
Eighteen minutes into the O2 explosion Kranz would ask his EECOMM Sy Leibergot “What do you think we got in the spacecraft that’s good?” After returning from Regula 1 Kirk would ask Spock the same thing. Both commanders commanded over crippled ships. NASA Flight directors Gene Kranz, Chris Kraft, and Glynn Lunney decided the best chance for survival would be to slingshot the Apollo 13 LM/CSM stack around the moon using the LM’s engine twice to speed the journey and correct the reentry angle. Kirk would limp into a nebula to “even the odds”, or “sauce for the goose” as Spock would say.
During the next four days Kranz’s White team would “work the problem” as each arose. Fitting a square CO2 scrubber into a round hole with duct tape and a sock among other onboard items, power up procedures for the Command Module (CM), finding a way to charge the CM’s batteries from the LM using what could be considered a design flaw. Apollo 13 had its share of luck to bring the crew home alive. Had they fired the damaged Service Module’s (SM) engine or if the heat shield had been cracked in the explosion their Kobayashi Maru would have ended in failure.
After entering the nebula and disabling the Reliant Kirk ran out of options. Kahn engages the Genesis device willing to destroy himself and his “Pequod” to bring down his nemesis white whale quoting Melville as he watches the Enterprise limp away on partial main power. With the Enterprise’s mains off line there was no warp power and no hope for escape. The only option was for one man to sacrifice his life “for the good of the many” by entering the warp chamber and clearing the mains. Spock enters the chamber, clears the mains and the Enterprise warps clear of the blast.
Luckily for NASA no one had to pay the ultimate sacrifice, despite three men sharing an LM designed for two for two days longer than it was intended to be used. In both cases it was the human factor that carried the day. A Vulcan in a moment of supreme logic giving his life for that of his crew, or thecountless men and women at NASA, the contractors, the crew, and the controllers who gave their all to bring home the Odyssey.
I’m happy to report that over the weekend, our Wondercon Galaxy Quest Retrospective of 30 years of the original series was a resounding success. Our medium sized room at the panel was insignificant next to the power of the crowd… and was filled to its capacity. A crowd lined up a half an hour beforehand and was running down the hall, around the corner, and around the corner again. We were even hassled trying to get into our own panel, until we said that WE were the ones doing it. It was a great time, and my co-panelists Steven Melching, Robert Meyer Burnett, and newly announced “Galaxy Quest: The Next Generation” exec producer Ashley Miller were on hand showing their Questarian credentials. (We neglected to announce that GQ-TNG had a website, www.galaxyquesttng.com, but mentioned it at our Starship Smackdown panel the next day. It looks like a placeholder page at the moment, but you can email them and join a list, I guess to be alerted when it goes live.
An adventurous audience member videotaped the proceedings, and I’m so pleased they put up segments from it on youtube… here they are.