13 Minutes To The Moon – The Apollo 11 Story
It is not everyday that you come across something worthy of bringing the attention of others to. The next show to stream or movie to watch or book to read is so often a matter of taste more than anything else. However, occasionally something comes along that hits all the right buttons. That something is 13 Minutes to The Moon, a BBC broadcast covering in detail, over the course of 12 episodes, the lunar landing mission of Apollo 11.
What began as a way to eat up time and teach our children about one of the biggest achievements in history, became a phenomenon in the Reason Financial office. From the beginning when you hear President Kennedy emphatically declare, “We choose to go to the moon!”, to the end where you listen (unbroken) to the final 13 minutes of communication between the Lunar Module and Houston, it is an adventure. The best part is that the episodes fill in the knowledge gap so well that you find you are capable of deciphering what is happening in those final minutes of broadcast before man first steps on the surface.
Apollo 11 defined a generation and continues to captivate us today. Perhaps, or because of, the fact that most of us at Reason Financial were not alive to watch the broadcast on television, this series felt like it brought us there in a way history classes and movies never could.
It is remarkable how intricate an operation the lunar missions were, both in scale and in teamwork. Hundreds of thousands of people at multiple agencies and companies had to be able to successfully create, develop, and integrate complex systems and bring them all together at just the right time for a lunar mission. Quality control was paramount when a minor error in the process, such as not properly insulating wires, could lead to a complete failure and loss of life.
A key takeaway for Team Reason was the importance of communication and responsibility, without which the lunar missions could not have been successful. As we head into tax season it was a reminder for us, even as small a team as we are by comparison, that effective communication and taking personal responsibility are keys to accomplishing a shared goal.
A sampling of the stories you will here:
Elaine Denniston – Elaine started as a temporary employee for the MIT Instrumentation Lab to key punch and organize the cards which served as the computer programming which enabled computer systems to function. Eventually, she became so skilled she could identify errors in the code and get it fixed before it was collated and put into the computer. Her telling of what it was like to grow from temp to key employee is an encouragement for all.
Neil Armstrong – For as much as early computers were relied upon there were times when humans had to intervene. The story of Neil Armstrong taking over flight controls to land safely is remarkable. His, and Buss Aldrin’s calm communications with Houston as they deal with multiple confusing issues is an example for all of us in how to appropriately address uncertainty.
Flight Controllers – “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast” is something we try to live by at Reason Financial. The stories from a variety of flight control personnel are a good reminder of how successful you can be when you live by this mantra. From system overloads, to landing area overshoots, to running out of fuel, to complex orientation calculations, the calm with which everyone acted was astonishing. It was a strong reminder that over-excitement, to say it politely, does not solve anything. The countdown of seconds of fuel remaining by Bob Carlton as Neil Armstrong navigated rocky terrain to find a suitable landing spot is surreal.
The team at Grumman – The Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) was a ground up build of a flying machine designed to operate in an environment that was an unknown. The descriptions of the engineering challenges are incredible. Cutting weight was a huge factor and learning how designs had to adapt to accomplish this goal is a lesson in keeping the primary objective in the forefront while you mold everything else to fit that purpose.
We could go on and on but will refrain for the sake of not giving too much away. After all, a lot of the fun is found in learning about a moment in history that you already think you know a lot about. The surprises and lessons to be learned are multitudinous, and history is an ever-present teacher.
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