Ron Howard, director of the film Apollo 13, once pointed out to Jim Lovell, the captain of the mission, that it was hard to hear a problem when listening to the original tapes from the time of the initial explosion. The response to immense problems was calm and measured – in both the spacecraft and in Mission Control.
Stories abound of innovation and entrepreneurial solutions. One aspect of the mission that received special attention in the movie involved the need to on-the-fly figure out a means to deal with the carbon dioxide that began to accumulate inside the spacecraft (this would have ultimately knocked-out the astronauts and killed them with carbon dioxide poisoning). NASA engineers on earth were tasked with figuring out how to deal with getting gas filtering canisters to fit into a special vent and were limited to only using items that already were on-board the flight.
An entrepreneurial approach that involved using the covers torn from the on-board operations manuals, and using duct tape (proof once again of the heralded worth of duct tape), along with various other items, was devised and then radioed as instructions up to the crew. The crew embraced the improvisation and fortunately, it worked.
The entire organisation was focused on making revised plans, and working those plans. People spent days at their desks dividing up immensely complex problems into solvable pieces. Throughout the crisis, there was little doubt and little fear. NASA, their suppliers, and the crew brought the crippled ship safely back to earth.
Now more that ever it’s important to remind ourselves that success can happen even when the odds seem overwhelmingly stacked against you. Focus on the mission at hand. Stay in the present and break down complex challenges so you can continue to make forward progress. Consistency compounds.
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