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18 May 2018

NBlog May 18 - contingency prep

I love the Apollo 13 film with Tom Hanks. It is commonly used in management training courses to illustrate team working, particularly the coordination and communications between and among the flight and ground crews. 

Personally, I'm more impressed at the process of managing a serious incident to avert disaster. 

Not only that, it's a compelling story and great entertainment, eminently watchable many times over.

In the film, one of several life-threatening issues facing the crew of the stricken lunar module is the accumulation of carbon dioxide. The bright sparks on the ground quickly cook-up a cunning plan for the astronauts to fabricate a scrubber to remove CO2 from the cabin air supply before they are all asphyxiated.

Among other things such as the cover of a flight manual and a spare filter, the procedure calls for "a roll of gray tape - duct tape". Whoever had the foresight to propose putting duct tape on board, and to approve the proposal despite the substantial cost (just a few dollars per roll of tape, maybe a few hundred dollars for the associated procurement and stowage processes, and no doubt thousands of dollars for every gram of mass launched into space), truly understands contingency. The cunning plan would probably have failed without it. It turned out to be mission-critical.

The black-and-white photo above affirms that NASA really does get it. Notice the gray cross on the fender of the Apollo 17 lunar rover. Yep, that's duct tape helping to secure a makeshift cardboard fender in place to cut the amount of moondust kicked up as the rover roves, reducing the risk of it damaging or settling on the scientific instruments.

Both situations illustrate the value of contingency preparations. 'Making do with whatever is to hand' - especially Number 8 fencing wire - is something Kiwis are brilliant at. Remember the scene in The World's Fastest Indian when Burt Munro rigs up a log as a skid having lost a wheel from his trailer on the way to the salt flats? If good quality duct tape had been available in the early 1960's, I bet Burt would have had some in his toolbox.

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