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Monday, February 14, 2011

Book Review: Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond

Today I finished reading "Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond" by Gene Kranz, former Flight Director at NASA. The book provides a historical account of how NASA delivered on the promise made by President John F. Kennedy to land a man on the moon and return him back safely to the Earth.

The majority of the book is focused on how the space program and technologies were created and implemented to support this bold initiative. It is easy to watch a spacecraft launch and landing and be impressed. What was previously lost with me was the amount of effort that led up to that point and the continual, real-time problem solving needed for each mission.  I was previously unaware at the depth of knowledge required of the Mission Controllers and how closely they trained with the astronauts.

I remember launching model rockets myself in the 7th grade and often wondered how the real rockets worked and how everything seemed to magically came together. This book answers that question and gives insight into how it was all possible.

My favorite quote from the book occurs close to the end. I believe it accurately and without wasting words summarizes the race to the moon"..the mark of a champion is the ability to thrive in tough times". Well said, sir. I agree that it requires no effort to celebrate success during the easy times. Times when it naturally comes together without stretching yourself or others. Those who make an impact on future generations are the ones who are able to, against insurmountable odds, embrace the challenge and achieve success in the worst possible situations.

This is an excellent book on teamwork and working on and solving seemingly intractable problems. Problems that need immediate attention and do not always come with a guarantee of success. I believe there are lessons form this book that can be applied to circumstances in our lives today:

  • Overwhelming preparedness to perform your daily duties.
  • Trust in the ability of your to deliver sound results.
  • The value and joy of working toward a goal that is as big, or bigger than your ability to achieve alone.

The book ends with a plea for the United States to resume an international leadership role in space. Only time will tell if and when this will ever occur.

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