Rented Apollo 13 this evening on my Apple TV in HD. Great movie. This is my 2nd time seeing it. It conjures all kinds of emotions in me. I was only 6 when the events recounted in it happened and barely remember it. However I read Gene Kranz book “Failure Is Not An Option” a few years ago, and I think about it a lot now.
A couple of years ago, we went to Niagara falls. On the way back across the border on the US side, about 2 blocks up and a right turn is an Aerospace museum. We decided that on our way to Cooperstown to the Baseball HOF that we’d stop in this little museum. The engineer in me was interested.
It was a wonderful place. There was an exposition of that some guy donated of all the model airplanes he had ever built. There were flight simulator setups for the kids to try. There was a minature V-tol vehicle and with a couple of buttons you could change the engines from copter mode to jet. There was a small crop duster helicopter you could sit in. There was a Howard Hughes Spruce plane being refurbished in the hugest woodshop I had ever seen. It was like “The Woodright shop” on steroids.
There was a huge parachute and you could sit beneath it on vintage WWII airplane seats and watch Michael York in the Battle of Britain.
Anyway, why was this museum here? Well, upstate NY was home to several companies that built airplanes or their parts. Bell, Wright and several others were based there. As you walked through the halls you could see pictures of planes and actual engines from these planes in cases. And when you got to the back of the museum, just to the right of the 14000 model airplanes, there was a short hall of fame setup for engineers and test pilots of upstate New York.
Many people who have gone to Cooperstown (which I hadn’t gotten to yet that day) have mentioned that the Hall where the plaques of all the members of the Hall of Fame is awe inspiring. And I have to admit that later that day, seeing the plaques of Ruth, Cool Papa Bell, Satchel Page, Tom Seaver et cetera was very moving. However, walking through this area in the back of a museum that I had decided to visit on a lark, inspired something deeper down in me. On several 1 foot wide floor to ceiling panels set up in a sort of louvered window fashion which you could walk through were pictures of men with buzz cuts and pocket protectors. Some of them, just the face, others looking up from their desks, others next to their planes. Maybe a 100 year span of pictures. But they were all engineers. Walking through those pictures was electric for me. I was never a baseball player (yes I played, but I was never very good) so I looked at Babe Ruth as a fan of baseball. However walking through the pictures of those guys who built planes, engines, flight computers, software, or were test pilots…well…whatever, you get the picture.
So tonight while watching Gene Kranz tell people, “Gentlemen, I want you all to forget the flight plan, from this moment on we are improvising on a new mission” just go to me all over again. It’s probably only second to the scene in Lord of the Rings where Gandalf confronts the Balrog and say “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” in taking the breath out of my lungs.
Later when the engineer who led the team to figure out how to build the CO2 filter came running from the conference room with his square peg in a round hole contraption so they could read the instructions to the crew…well that’s the most extreme version of the feeling that many of us have had in our engineering lives where the deadline was approaching, there was no turning back and we had to deliver…truly the movie isn’t even close to the drama that was going on in Houston and nothing I’ve ever done reaches that, but nevertheless I can imagine. Anyway, here’s that scene again…