Friday, December 03, 2010

Failure is Not an Option

I recently read Failure Is Not An Option by Gene Kranz, a former flight director (among many other jobs) at NASA. He's the flight director that is the main focus of the Apollo 13 movie. It's his memoir of his life, focusing mostly on his time in NASA and on the missions he was a part of.

In short, I loved this book.  Spaceflight is terribly interesting to me, and I'm still amazed that they accomplished what they did with the technology available at the time.  But this book brings out the personalities of the many people involved. 

One thing that struck me was the amount of leadership, ingenuity, and deep expertise expected from everyone involved.  Many involved were from a military background and so naturally tended to leadership positions.  The great importance of the project made it necessary for only really good leaders to rise up - no "social promotion" or promotion based on years experience.  Definitely a meritocracy.  Also, leaders had to both know their technology backwards and forwards.  It wasn't enough to be a good manager, but you had to have come up through the system having not just the ability to look up information but the ability to pull it out of your head at a moment's notice. 

The ingenuity to deal with not just the extraordinary circumstances like Apollo 13, but designing everything from the rockets to the landers to the procedures to make it all happen in mission control to the communication system in such a short time was extraordinary.

I highly recommend it.

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