Monday, 29 June 2009

Mr Steve Bales and the decision that made history


In 1962, John F. Kennedy made a famous speech about rocketing to the moon by the end of the decade. On 16 July, 1969, the dream began to come true (just in time!) as three young chaps – Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins – set off for their lunar voyage. What a dream. What a statement. What a decision.

But did you know touchdown on the lunar surface almost didn’t happen? It all came down to another decision. Made by one man. And that man wasn’t Mr Armstrong.

In the secured room at Mission Control in Houston, Texas, sat young Steve Bales. Playing his part in the biggest journey ever undertaken by humans, Steve had to say something. Why? Because his boss had a couple of little questions for him about the alarm that had lit up in Neil and Buzz’s Lunar Module (Eagle) cabin.

With just 20 seconds until “Dead Man’s Zone” – the ten-second period where Eagle’s descent speed to the moon’s surface would be so great that if they tried to abort and pull up they’d run out of fuel – senior flight controller Gene Kranz asked the question. Is the alarm serious? Should we abort?

So Steve had some responsibility. Two lives. And the dreams – and reputation – of a nation.

Abort?

“We’re ‘Go’ on that alarm,” said Bales.

It was the best decision young Steve ever made.

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