Houston, We’ve had a Problem


The Apollo 13 space accident was dramatically documented in a popular 1995 movie. The three astronauts aboard survived a four day struggle, involving numerous near misses with death. It was on this flight that Commander Jack Swiggert made the famous under statement “Houston, we’ve had a problem here”. Like many of the space accidents the underlying cause of this near disaster was simple. Degraded Teflon insulation triggered off a cascade of problems.

This particular incident clearly illustrates how well humans can perform under pressure. The procedures for powering up the command module of Apollo 13 would normally take three months to develop. But under pressure they were produced in three days. They worked so well that the millions who followed the drama of Apollo 13, breathed a collective sigh of relief when the capsule gently floated down into the Pacific Ocean.

The innovative thinking required of the crew matched that of mission control. In freezing cold conditions, three harried astronauts struggled not only with many simultaneous emergencies, but with numerous unexpected everyday problems. For example, since they couldn’t dump any waste overboard so as not to disturb their homeward trajectory, they even had to scramble to find ways to store their own urine!

So next time you have a problem, remember humans often perform best under pressure.