Today is April 11, which for some reading this column may not sound like a very important date.
In fact, today happens to mark exactly 49 years since the start of an event that transfixed the nation, briefly bringing people of every age, race and creed together in front of their television sets to watch as intense a drama as had ever been broadcast.
I’m speaking, here, about the launch of the Apollo 13 mission to the moon in 1970, an endeavor that went catastrophically wrong and yet at the same time highlighted — perhaps as much as anything I have ever seen — what the phrase “mentally tough” truly means.
If you aren't familiar with the story and didn't even see the Hollywood version starring Tom Hanks as mission commander Jim Lovell here is a very, very brief summary: Three days after the United States seventh manned space mission launched, an oxygen tank stored onboard the spacecraft's service module exploded. The resulting damage was catastrophic, and threatened not only the crew's ability to safely re-enter the Earths atmosphere, but also their chances of surviving long enough to even make the attempt.
What followed could have easily been a tragedy, an ending that saw the loss of all three astronauts and cast a permanent pall over the American space program. Instead, thanks to a group of tough, determined, tireless engineers at NASA’s Mission Control, the event would go down in history as a defining example of American ingenuity at its best.
Refusing to accept defeat, they systematically tackled crisis after crisis in their efforts to save the three men. Each problem, according to a memoir later written by mission control leader Gene Kranz, was faced with a cool head, a discerning eye and that same, now famous creed: failure is not an option.
Even if you didn’t see it play out live, it’s hard not to feel inspired by that willingness to face down the toughest challenges and refusal to accept defeat.
It’s a story I refer back to often, particularly when a problem seems unsolvable.
As we mark this anniversary of triumph over near-tragedy, let’s celebrate all the people who keep pushing, keep working, keep trying until the job is done.