Thursday, June 3, 2010

How did we forget how to get things done?

It’s been awhile since I’ve watched my favorite movie, Apollo 13.

I love that movie. Even read three or four times the book on which it is based, astronaut Jim Lovell’s Lost Moon.

At any rate, the near-disaster of Apollo 13 begs comparison with the real disaster of the BP oil spill. Because in the days of the Apollo program we got things done. Can you imagine if Apollo 13 occurred today? :

APOLLO 13: Uh, Houston. We have a problem.

HOUSTON: [recorded] We’re sorry – all Mission Control operators are busy at this time. However, be advised that your call is important to us. To state the nature of your communication please listen carefully. If you have a guidance system issue, please press 1. If you need assistance with life support, press 2. Retrorocket issues, press 3. We’ll be with you soon. [Recorded music sprach Zarathusra – opening of 2001 a Space Odyssey – begins to play Daaaa Daaa DaaaaaDaaaaaahhhhh.]

APOLLO 13: Houston, we don’t know if this is a guidance problem or retrorockets and given the decline in our oxygen, this might be a life support problem. So we don’t know what number to press.

HOUSTON: [Music: Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom...]

APOLLO 13: Houston!

HOUSTON: Apollo 13, Houston. Thanks for waiting. Please be advised that your call is being monitored for quality purposes. What can we do for you?

APOLLO 13: Well, the spacecraft is shimmying and we’re venting something into space and we’re losing oxygen.

HOUSTON: You’re venting something into space? Have you filled out EPA Form 73-2, Variance Request for Spacecraft Emissions?

APOLLO 13: Well…

HOUSTON: That shimmy – is it affecting your trajectory? We’ll need to refile your flight plan if that’s the case. Of course we’ll need some of the suits to sign off on that and they’ve left for their taxpayer-paid golf trip to Scotland, so it’ll be probably ten days before we can get on that.

APOLLO 13: The most urgent problem we see is that our oxygen and power levels are dropping.

HOUSTON: Power levels are dropping? How can that be? Isn’t your windmill working?

APOLLO 13: Uh, no, Houston. It can’t work in space – there’s no atmosphere.

HOUSTON: C’mon, Apollo 13 – that’s good green power, the best space windmill designed. Let’s not be critical. Hold it, Apollo 13. President Obama is on the line and he wants to talk with you. Go ahead, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT: Hello. Apollo 13. It. Is. Good. To. Speak. With. You. [off mic] Could you speed that, uh, that, uh, that Teleprompter up a bit? You. Will. Be. Glad. To. Know. That. We. Are. Charging. The spacecraft builders with criminal negligence. Our people will hold our boot to their neck until this problem is fixed. Everyone here with me in Scotland is hoping for your safe return. And you will be glad to know that this is all the fault of George Bush.

APOLLO 13: Thank you, Mr. President. Hello, Houston?

HOUSTON: Go ahead, Apollo 13.

APOLLO 13: We’ve found another situation here. Our CO2 scrubbers aren’t working. We’re going to choke on our own carbon dioxide.

HOUSTON: What was that?!?!?!?!?

APOLLO 13: CO2 scrubbers. The carbon dioxide levels are increasing…

HOUSTON: Increased carbon levels? Increased carbon levels?!?!?!? You’re damaging the planet!!!!

APOLLO 13: But we’re not on the planet.

HOUSTON: It doesn’t matter. Increased carbon levels! Why didn’t you say so earlier? Now we have a real problem!!!!!!

Times have changed. In 1962 President Kennedy called for the U. S. to have a man on the moon within seven years. NASA did it. And still had five months to spare.

And, of course, Gene Kranz and Mission Control accomplished the impossible with Apollo 13.

Where have we gone wrong?

How did we forget how to get things done?

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