Thursday, May 8, 2014

Apollo 13 Through a Kid’s Eyes

We watched Ron Howard’s 1995 film recently, because Opie don’t make bad movies.

My daughter was awestruck by it.

That could easily end the “Through a Kid’s Eyes” portion of the evening, but I need to continue and explain why parents should be sharing this film with their children.

I was born six months after the first moon landing and a month before Apollo 13 caught everyone’s attention again.  We grew up while the Apollo missions were still fresh in the cultural mindset, and the transition into the space shuttle era brought enough reminders and progress to keep the early space program in our minds.

The knowledge of those amazing feats and accomplishments of those years has faded over time.  The authenticity of Apollo 13, by design, is an important reminder of what was done.

My daughter had just finished a presentation on Neil Armstrong before seeing it, but there were many aspects of how the missions worked that weren’t obvious in hindsight.  The idea that the men were strapped into a tiny capsule atop over three hundred feet of high explosive filled booster is something that needs to be visually experienced to be appreciated.

Also, while she knew computers were both in the craft and on the ground, learning that her Penguin cased IPod had more computing power than the machine guiding them to the moon was an eye opener.

Even the idea, which was routine through most of my childhood, of a three stage rocket system was completely foreign to her.  When the first stage blew free, she screamed, assuming that was the “problem” they famously told Houston about having.

Part of the importance about this film is showing kids what was done to let them marvel at the sheer bravery and audacity of it.  The one time during that mission when the astronauts said they were least worried about something going wrong was during the “routine” flight behind the moon.

That would be the point when they became the people who still hold the record for being the furthest away from the Earth, and were completely cut off from any contact with the rest of human civilization.

Another part is to show the kids about the power of intelligence and learning.

Heck there’s a dramatic scene focusing on a row of guys doing life or death long division.

The scientists and engineers aren’t the goofy sidekicks or helpers in this real world drama, they’re the heroes.

And let’s not forget about reminding kids about the space program in general.

There’s a working space station up there people!  It has a live feed on the web and everything. My nerdy friends and I would have missed afternoon cartoons regularly if something like that was available.  We inhabit such a tiny portion of the universe, under a tiny set of conditions that can support us.  It’s kind of silly to forget about the rest of it, if only to make sure a big chunk of it isn’t going to smack into us someday.

The final important thing about Apollo 13 is the attitude and absence of negativity.  People far too often focus on failure and disasters.

The shuttle disasters get more play than all the scientific information they garnered, and (again) the freakin’ space station they put up.

The initial Hubble focus problems were widely ridiculed in the press, but all the data it’s give us since being fixed barley makes a peep.
(It was designed to be serviced by the shuttle, not just stuck up there, anyway.)

And, of course, the crashings on Mars got way more news time than the data streaming back from various crawlers and robots.

The one thing people associate with Apollo 13 is,
“Houston, we have a problem.”

But by watching the recreation Ron Howard and company put together, far stronger positive messages stay with the viewer.

Several from Gene Kranz

“Let's work the problem, people. Let's not make things any worse by guessing.”

“I don't care what anything was designed to do. I care about what it can do.”

“With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.”

Other equally important ones come from Jim Lovell,
“We're not gonna go bouncing off the walls for the next ten minutes, because we're just gonna end up right back here with the same problems!”

His Wife, MarIlyn:
“Those people don't put one piece of equipment on my lawn. If they have a problem with that,
they can take it up with my husband. He'll be home... on Friday!”

And his Mom:
“Well, don't you worry, honey. If they could get a washing machine to fly, my Jimmy could land it.”

While not all are exact quotes, they capture the flavor and the focus of those individuals.

After all, “Houston, we have a problem,” isn’t a one hundred percent correct quote either.

When experiencing the film, it’s much more likely that this line by Gene Kranz with stay with a young viewer:

“I want this mark all the way back to Earth with time to spare. We've never lost an American in space, we're sure as hell not gonna lose one on my watch. Failure is not an option!”

It isn’t a real quote either, (though Kranz liked it enough to use it as the title of his autobiography) but like almost all of the few things in the film that the movie makers took some dramatic liberties with, the truth is far more awesome:

Apollo 13 Flight Dynamics Officer Jerry Bostick:
"As far as the expression 'Failure is not an option', you are correct that Kranz never used that term. In preparation for the movie, the script writers, Al Reinart and Bill Broyles, came down to Clear Lake to interview me on 'What are the people in Mission Control really like?' One of their questions was 'Weren't there times when everybody, or at least a few people, just panicked?' “My answer was 'No, when bad things happened, we just calmly laid out all the options, and failure was not one of them. We never panicked, and we never gave up on finding a solution.'”

Give your kids some real heroes to look up to.

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