Book Review: Failure Is Not an Option
By: Gene Kranz
Simon and Schuster, Inc.
More years ago, than it really seems, my wife and I found ourselves on a date night in Wichita watching Tom Hanks in Apollo 13. I remember wondering throughout that movie who the mission control man was that Ed Harris portrayed. You know, the guy in the vest with the high and tight hair cut making split-second decisions under immense pressure. Little did I know that 2 years ago I would discover the answer in the Knights of Columbus magazine Columbia. As you may have already guessed, the man that Ed Harris portrayed was none other than Gene Kranz, but that hardly tells the story.
When I would visit my maternal grandfather he loved to listen to Paul Harvey on the radio during lunch. Honestly, I can still hear the crackle in that radio and see the sparkle in my grandfather’s eye as we heard Paul Harvey’s famous line, “And now you know the rest of the story.” So here is my rest of the story moment, Columbia did a whole article on Gene Kranz and his career at NASA (by memory I think that article was in March of 2018 or around that time), but what I did not know until reading that story was that Mr. Kranz is devoutly Catholic. Who knew all those years ago, when my wife and I were watching the harrowing story of Apollo 13 unfold, that one of the main characters was depicting a man devoted to his Catholic faith.
On the official Catholic Man Show technical read scale*** I rate this book at a level 4 as it does have a glossary of terms and acronyms in the back of the book to explain some of the more complicated space flight topics which are detailed in this literary work. The storyline is laid out chronologically beginning in the fall of 1960 and makes this book easy to follow. Yes, there are some technical terms that went right over my head like gimbal lock (something I always thought I experienced on the golf course), but actually, it relates to flying a spacecraft and maybe other types of vehicles used for flight. All pilots and space buffs out there feel free to insert your laughter here because physics was definitely not my strong suit, despite the very best efforts of my beloved professor.
One aspect I enjoyed about this book was the camaraderie shared by those working to get astronauts into orbit and then back to earth with razor-sharp focus and commitment. Of course, there were arguments and moments of intense pressure and debate, but despite that, the team came together to complete the task at hand. I suppose that is why the appendix of the book highlights one more time the six words describing the focus of mission control and those words are: “discipline, competence, confidence, responsibility, toughness, and teamwork.” I think a lot of those words could be used as a guide to the spiritual life as it was hard to read this book and not think about the creativity and wisdom of our God. In case there is any wonder, there are some great biblical references and of course prayer references throughout this work (I especially enjoyed the story of an astronaut reading from the book of Genesis as he orbited around the moon).
As Mr. Kranz detailed his career in the 397 pages of this book, he was able to mention and give credit to the support of his wife (she made the vests for his missions), to talk about his 6 children, and to convey his effort to attend Holy Mass prior to each mission. I truly appreciated his confident and honest writing style and found a lot of inspiration from the stories and missions he covers in this memoire. His type of writing allows the reader to feel personally invested in the victories and heart wrenching failures that occurred during his career. Yes, working to get humans into space and back is very risky and rarely goes as planned, but overcoming those obstacles is something to admire and appreciate.
It is likely an understatement to say that I found a lot of personal and professional motivation in this story. I realize there are many great books out there, but as men, I think this is one we should all consider putting on our reading list. I know I learned some new things about myself by reading and reflecting on the chapters the author presented. Ironically one quote from this book that seemed to be speaking directly to me came from a story in the fall of 1972, when I was a mere 6 months old. The author was reflecting on a couple of patriotic Apollo commanders when he stated, “Maybe it was just the times we lived in that we needed reminders of what we stood for. The world around us seemed to be going haywire.” Seems like this quote could easily apply to our present time.
I might be digging a little deep here, but I found as I read this story that the title of the book seemed to draw a parallel to our perseverance for living a holy life. Honestly don’t we live to not fail in leading ourselves and others to heaven? Shouldn’t this be our focus of every minute and second of our lives to reach ever upward to meet our heavenly Father? In closing, I am challenging myself and anyone else reading this to remember that when it comes to living a life of holiness that “failure is not an option!”
By: Kent Keithly, husband and father
***Regarding The Catholic Man Show technical read scale: A 3 out of 10 is a leisurely read that could be read in a couple of weeks, an 8 out of 10 is a more technical read which requires more time and often requires looking up definitions of words to clearly understand the author, and finally a 10/10 is an extremely technical read that requires a significant amount of time to complete the book, as well as, extra time to look up further explanations of the topic, definitions, and likely requires that some pages be read more than once to grasp the content.