Are losing theirs and blaming it on you ...
|Apollo 13's mission insignia|
In case you were wondering, I am referring to the astronauts aboard the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission. Fred Haise, Jack Swigert and Jim Lovell were on board the Lunar Module Aquarius, hauling a crippled Command Module Odyssey on a swing around the Moon, hoping against all hope that their supplies would hold out until they reached Earth. Hoping that their Command Module's heat shield wasn't damaged in the explosion that left them in this situation in the first place. Hoping that they could restart all of the systems in the Command Module so they could safely get home.
Yes, we have all seen the movie Apollo 13 featuring Tom Hanks. Director Ron Howard took a few dramatic liberties with the plot to build suspense, the actual communications on the flight director's loop were surprisingly cool and measured. In fact, you can hear the exact exchange in the loop here in this video.
Why would that be?
It's because that's the way flight control was built. From the early days of the Mercury missions through the successful Gemini program to the catastrophic loss of life on the Apollo 1 test, the mettle of men such as Gene Kranz was tested (BTW - I love this article about Mr. Kranz - TI). They uniquely understood that there was a razor-thin margin between a successful mission and a disaster.
So,when the oxygen tank in the Service Module exploded, there was no panic. The team members understood what was being requested of them, and what they had to do to get the astronauts home safely.
Now, what do we take from this as public information officers? Of course, the information we put out to the public is critical, especially during times of crisis. It could literally mean the difference between life and death. After all, will people get the word they need to evacuate before a hurricane makes landfall, or to shelter in place while a cloud of deadly chlorine gas drifts through their neighborhood?
|Flight Director Gene Kranz working the situation|
It's only later in the voice loop that the more urgent communication spurring the crew to take refuge in the Lunar Module was communicated, and that was done again in a very deliberate manner to save as many resources as possible to ensure the crew's survival.
|Now is not the time to show panic|
None other than the legendary Gene Kranz postulated that the tragedy of the loss of the Apollo 1 crew was what saved the Apollo 13 crew. In his famous Kranz Dictum, he told everyone in flight control that the prerequisite for being part of the elite community were toughness and competence. And, in that vein, the flight controllers went to work, solving problem after problem that no one could have possibly considered.
For instance, the carbon dioxide scrubbers which kept the poisonous waste product from exhalation from accumulating used round canisters in the Lunar Module, but rectangular ones in the Command Module. Since the Lunar Module was only designed to hold two astronauts for the short duration they would spend on the Moon, this became a problem which was overcome with innovative thinking, imagination and just a little bit of duct tape.
|To survive, it may become necessary to improvise|
On April 17, 1970, the Odyssey safely splashed down southwest of American Samoa, just four miles from the USS Iwo Jima. Except for a urinary tract infection that plagued Fred Haise, the crew was little worse for the wear. It would be nearly a year before the next mission, Apollo 14, launched for the Moon, and the valuable lessons learned from 13's endurance test were incorporated in the new craft to make the trip safer.
|The Apollo 13 crew safely aboard the USS Iwo Jima|
Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida