“Failure Is Not An Option”

My thoughts

I just finished watching The History Channel’s two-hour documentary about the flight engineers of Mission Control during the manned space flights of the 1960s and early 1970s. Although there was a lot of good stuff, especially the interviews with some of the principal participants, I sure wish that there had been more information in this program. It was long on generalities and short on details.

The show ran more like a general history of the manned space program from its inception during Mercury through the “successful failure” of Apollo 13. It completely skipped over a lot of things I was hoping to learn more about, especially the nearly-disasterous Gemini 8 mission, and rushed through even the biggest crises of the period, the Apollo 1 launchpad fire and the events of Apollo 13. I was hoping to see and hear some of the actual discussions that the engineers had during these events, and though there were a few snippets, there wasn’t really anything new. I was hoping for more in-depth discussion of the thought processes the men on the ground used to bring the men in space back safely.

I was hoping to get a glimpse of what it was like to be one of the crew-cut, pocket-protector nerds that sent men to the moon while their former high school classmates smoked pot, listened to The Doors, and burned draft cards and bras. There wasn’t much of that. One thing that I did learn, though, is that most of the engineers at mission control were BS degree holders, not PhDs or Masters degree holders. I don’t know what the mix at NASA is these days, but I imagine there aren’t a lot of BS holders running around, at least the ones who’s “BS” stands for Bachelor of Science. Maybe there are too many braniacs, not enough doers these days? Just a thought.

There wasn’t a lot of footage that I hadn’t seen before, and, as usual, I wished that the History Channel would institute a system to let viewers know which footage is genuine, which footage is genuine but not specifically of the events they’re discussing, and which footage is re-enacted. I think an unobtrusive little icon in the lower corner of the screen to let viewers know what it is they’re looking at isn’t asking too much. I understand that often there just isn’t actual footage available, and I value well-researched re-enactments, but I think it’s important that viewers understand exactly what they’re getting. Sort of a truth-in-reporting standard, which I realize Just Isn’t The Way It’s Done.

To get a better look at the flight engineers’ handling of a crisis, I recommend the 1995 film Apollo 13. It seems that The History Channel knows that the film is a top-notch portrayal of that ill-fated flight, since they aired it right after the documentary tonight. Failure Is Not An Option gets one thumb up, one thumb down from MO. Disappointing.