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Soup of This Day #28: She Packed My Bags Last Night Pre-Flight

July 4, 2011

Mission Control celebrates successful splashdown of Apollo 13
Mission Control in Houston celebrating the successful return of Apollo 13. Flight Directors from l to r, Gerald D. Griffin (arm raised), Eugene F. Kranz, and Glynn S. Lunney. The 4th Flight Director, Milton L. Windler is not in shot – Photo: NASA, 1970. NASA is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

In yesterday’s post I succumbed to the temptation and used a line that was waaaaaaaay too easy and predictable:

‘Houston has a problem.’

It plays on the Houston Astros 2011 struggles, in particular the 2 losses they’d just had to Boston over consecutive days. It also references a famous and iconic radio call made by the astronauts of Apollo 13 as they encountered an extraordinary situation, roughly 320000km from Earth.

Apollo 13 was to have been the 3rd manned mission to land on the Moon. It slipped the surly bounds of Earth on April 11th, 1970. Take off was at 13:13, a fact that suspicious people the world over were to invoke after the problem surfaced. The problem occurred when the crew initiated a stir of the Oxygen and Hydrogen tanks on Day 2, April 13th. Damaged wire insulation for a stirring fan led to a short, a fire and a subsequent explosion, with oxygen and fuel in the Command Module being depleted to unsustainable levels. The crew felt the bang as a large jolt and with alerts going haywire made the famous series of radio calls:

Command Module Pilot, Jack Swigert: Okay Houston, we’ve had a problem here.

Mission Control: This is Houston, say again please.

Commander, Jim Lovell: Houston, we have a problem. We’ve had a Main B Bus undervolt.

The astonishing thing is that, unlike in the really quite good 1995 Ron Howard movie, the actual radio transmissions are devoid of emotion. A little while later Lovell announces to Mission Control.

Commander, Jim Lovell: ‘We are venting something into space.’

What he’s basically saying is that they are losing oxygen. That’s oxygen, the stuff that we, humans, need for life.

And he’s saying it like he’s running low on milk and needs to go to the corner store.

That is courage.

Lovell is on record as saying that it was training but I reckon it helps to have some ice water in the veins and Lovell, Swigert and Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise had arctic blood and antifreeze circulating.

Meanwhile on the ground in Houston, Lead Flight Director Gene Kranz took his staff through what they needed to do to help the crew come home. They settled on Apollo 13 slingshotting around the Moon, almost 400000kms away from home before scooting back to Earth, using the Landing Module as a lifeboat. This they managed and the 3 astronauts returned safely home a little after 18:00 local time on April 17th. Kranz had been responsible for a eponymous dictum that he generated following the fatal Apollo 1 fire in February of 1967. In it he preached that NASA staff had to be ‘tough and competent’. He told NASA Flight Control staff:

‘When you leave this meeting today you will go to your office and the first thing you will do there is to write ‘Tough and Competent’ on your blackboards. It will never be erased. Each day when you enter the room these words will remind you of the price paid by Grissom, White, and Chaffee. These words are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control.’

Serious and weighty stuff and ultimately the parallels to the sporting world don’t hold up. Lives aren’t at risk because of the Astros latest slump and I’m guessing that NASA has bigger fish to fry.

Which is understandable but I’m sure if the chance arose the Astros could really use some NASA invention and spirit right now. Game 3 of their interleague series with the Red Sox was this morning and Houston needed to get things turned around from the opening 2 games which they had lost. Boston on the other hand were starting to gain some traction, having won their previous 3. The wins weren’t necessarily pretty but you take them, maybe hoping to build on them, get tough and competent.

Former Houston native Josh Beckett had the start for the Sox and kept it tight early. As befitting a guy who’s just made the All-Star roster he pitched well, seeing out 8 innings for just the 5 hits and 1 run. The offence struggled to make use of his hard work though as Jordan Lyles also had a nice outing for the Astros. It took until the 4th for Boston to get on the board and it took an error for that to happen, Varitek with an RBI single. That run was cancelled out in the 5th and it took until the top of the 9th for the Sox to edge back in front. Mark Melancon walked Gonzalez (again) with runners on the corners to load them up. With Youk then up to the plate he fired 3 balls, a strike and then a 4th ball to walk the Sox bat and bring home what was to be the winner. Papelbon with his 17th save and Beckett improves to 7 and 3 with the win. The Red Sox move up to 49 and 34 and thanks to a Yankees extra inning loss to the Mets close to within 1.5 games of the AL East lead. Next up a 7 game home stand against the Blue Jays (3 games) and the Orioles (4) leading in to the All-Star break.

At the Women’s World Cup Brazil beat Norway 3-0 to qualify for the quarters while Australia got a mostly assured but occasionally bizarre win over Equatorial Guinea 3-2. An early goal for the Matildas was cancelled out within the half hour. Along the way there was one of the most extraordinary handballs you will ever see. Unless you’re the refs in which case you won’t see anything. The Matildas made it 3-1 early in the 2nd half with a late goal to Equatorial Guinea providing a few nerves down the stretch. Next up for the green and gold girls is Norway and a draw will do. Bring it.

Casey Stoner couldn’t quite make it a stellar night for down under sports nuts. He led for 16 laps but got swamped in the closing stages to finish 3rd to Jorge Lorenzo. Stoner’s gap at the top drops to 19 points

In the Tour a good night for Cadel Evans. His BMC team drove an impressive train to finish just 4s in arrears to Team Garmin-Cervelo in the team time trial. This left Cadel just 1s off yellow with the coveted jersey going to Thor Hushovd, the god of thunder. Leopard Trek kept pace so Andy Schleck lost no real time however Alberto Contador lost a further 24s as Team Saxo Bank finished in 8th. A flat stage currently underway tonight and as I write this there are 71km to go and the peloton are 3:20 adrift of a breakaway.

I won’t tonight but for the past couple of Tours I have a tradition of getting on the exercise bike to ride for an hour or so with the guys. It’s not the real deal but with a little imagination and some props you can do alright.

Which is what I got to do earlier this year in a recreation of the Apollo 13 incident. Some inventive New Zealanders have created an interactive theatre show that puts around 50 or so people into a pretty good recreation of Mission Control. Another 100 or so others get to watch from the ‘Press Gallery’ as you run through the events of the crisis, manning consoles, making calculations and for one lucky person, filling in for astronaut Ken Mattingly after he gets ruled out with the threat of measles. The show is brilliant, a real blast and is apparently headed to the US in 2012 so if you’re there and so are they then it’s well worth it.

Maybe there’s a market for that sort of thing in sport. Give some Red Sox fans the chance to recreate the 2004 World Series Game 4. For Liverpool fans how about a re-enactment of Istanbul?

Dockers fans can just have a night at the pub.

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