An April evening in 1970, two hundred thousand miles from Earth.
“There’s one whole side of the spacecraft that’s missing,” Captain Jim Lovell told mission control at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston—now the Johnson Space Center—after the rupture gutted the cryogenic tank and nearly consumed the whole ship.¹ In an instant, the moon-bound astronauts—who would have been the third crew to make a lunar landing—found themselves no longer en route to the moon’s Fra Mauro Highlands. Instead, they were floating in a cold, dark, and epic odyssey in hopes of somehow returning to terra firma (well, technically, the Pacific Ocean).
What followed was an almost unbelievable coup of innovative engineering and execution by the three astronauts, multiple flight-control teams, thousands of backroom flight engineers and support staff across the country, as well as the spacecraft manufacturer. Those guys seemed destined to plunge headlong into the incinerating atmosphere five weeks later.² Instead, they splashed down safely a few days after the explosion. The whole world was watching, including my wife, kids, and me.
How did they do it? With a combined technology far less impressive than your average Bluetooth-enabled microwave oven. All the main factors were foundational. Clarity of mission. Respect for authority (in this case, for the flight director Gene Kranz’s total license). Flawless teamwork coupled with individual responsibility. The segregation of paralyzing emotion from practical mission. And finally, perhaps most important, endless drilling and paramilitary-level preparation.
That’s how to return America to greatness.
These were the same old-fashioned Conservative values the first responders employed in the days after 9/11. That’s how they managed to stay so calm during their rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero. If you simulate an activity enough times, a kind of muscle memory takes over. Success or failure of any endeavor, no matter how difficult, can be predicted with near precision based on the relative foundation of training, preparation, and contingency planning.
If our President’s proposed Space Force is anything like NASA in its ingenuity and adaptability – and simultaneous conservatism – then I’m all in. We can all learn something from that kind of thinking.
Planning for contingencies means no “failures of imagination.” If you can think it up, it can happen. In my eighty-year-plus lifespan, our society has progressed from the invention of electronic television to virtual reality. In the same way you can plan for the worst-case scenario (squirreling away funds for a rainy day, insuring yourself and your family, investing, getting a go-bag ready both literally and figuratively for another 9/11), you can design your dream life. Put it on paper. What would you dare to dream if failing were impossible? Now how do get from here to there? Not just to the next stop on the journey—the distance you can see in your headlights—but to your destination in all its future splendor.
1 “The Apollo 13 Accident.” NSSDCA/NASA. https://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/lunar/ap13acc.html. Accessed 6-22-17.
2 Chow, Denise. “What If Apollo 13 Failed to Return Home? New Video Tells All.” SPACE.com. https://www.space.com/8203-apollo-13-failed-return-home-video-tells.html.April 13, 2010. Accessed 6-22-17.