Minute 101: If This Basketball were the Earth

May 11, 2020

A news anchor is explaining the mid-course correction on the air.

“In order to enter the atmosphere safely,” says the news anchor, “the crew must aim for a corridor just two and a half degrees wide. If they’re too steep, they will incinerate in the steadily thickening air, if they’re too shallow, they’ll ricochet off the atmosphere like a rock skipping off a pond.”

The news anchor holds up a basketball and a piece of paper. “The re-entry corridor is in fact so narrow,” says the news anchor, “that if this basketball were the earth, and this softball were the moon, and the two were placed fourteen feet apart, the crew would have to hit a target no thicker than this piece of paper.”

Back in Mission Control, Flight Director Glynn Lunney makes an announcement.

“Okay, people,” says Lunney. “On your toes. We’re doing this one blind.”

The Grumman rep talks to Gene Kranz.

“Gene, I want you to understand we’ve never tried this before, burn, cold soak, burn, cold soak, burn, manual control,” says the Grumman rep.

“Look,” replies Gene, “it will ignite, will it not?”

“I just want you to know the engines never been tried like
this,” says the Grumman rep. “That’s all I’m trying to tell you.”

“Look,” says Gene, “I know what you’re trying to do, I guarantee you I won’t hold you personally responsible. If it lights, it lights. Let Lovell do the rest.”

“Okay,” says the Grumman rep.

Back on TV, the news anchor is explaining the situation. Marilyn is seated in her home with several astronaut wives, watching the television.

“They’re gonna burn the engines and steer it manually, attempting to keep the earth in the window,” says the news anchor.


Jeffrey Kluger as Science Reporter

Ed Harris as Gene Kranz

Marc McClure as Glynn Lunney

Kathleen Quinlan as Marilyn Lovell

Kenneth White as Grumman Rep


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