How you look at things solves problems, NASA-style

A scene from the inspirational docudrama Apollo 13 based on the true rescue of a disaster in space illustrates a great example of how different models and beliefs can motivate different motivations and behavior.
The scene is the control room after a lunar mission suffered an explosion and three astronauts’ lives were in peril as their ship hurdled through space with little chance at recovery.
The characters are a fictional character representing NASA’s public relations named Henry Hurt, an unnamed NASA Director Hurt interviews, and Gene Krantz, the Flight Director. This clip, though perhaps overly dramatized, shows different aspects of adopting different perspectives.

  • Taking responsibility and looking forward versus accepting fate and looking to make excuses.
  • Not basing your model on being right or just some evidence (you can never know everything), but also on what contribution you can make.
  • Taking an active versus a passive approach.
  • The shame of being caught bringing people down.
  • Looking for solutions instead of problems.
  • The emotional side of problem solving and teamwork.

Whom do you want on your team? Who do you want to be? How do you want to approach your problems? How do you want your teams to approach problems?


HENRY HURT: RETRO says the typhoon is still a presence in the splash down area?


HENRY HURT: Whata we got? the parachute situation, the heatshield, the angle of trajectory and the typhoon, there’s just so many variables. I’m a little at a loss…

NASA DIRECTOR: I know what the problems are, Henry. This could be the worst disaster NASA’s ever experienced.

GENE KRANTZ (FLIGHT DIRECTOR): With all due respect, sir. I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.

NASA DIRECTOR (whispers): Okay.

Geeky note

The movie, being about NASA, is full of overtly geeky stuff. I’ll just point out that the word disaster comes from dis-, implying negativity, and aster, meaning star, making the explosion on the Apollo 13 spacecraft something closer to a disaster as any events of human creation.

Leave a Reply