As I look back on my life, there were several seminal moments that lead to me becoming completely obsessed with the power of STEM Challenges. We’re nearing the 47th anniversary of one of those moments. While I wasn’t actually alive for the Apollo 13 mission (launched April 11, 1970), the 1995 movie that dramatized it made an impact that would inform the kind of teacher I became.
The Apollo 13 mission shows how seemingly insurmountable obstacles can be overcome with scientific reasoning and problem solving. Specifically, the carbon dioxide filter fix shows why STEM Challenges are so much more than just “fun.”
I didn’t really know anything about the mission before the movie, so it left a huge impression on me — all the problems the crew encountered, all the odds stacked against them at every turn … problem after problem, yet the crew returned home safely on April 17, 1970, due to the power of scientific reasoning and resilient, determined action! Seriously, you can say all you want for survival instinct, but I think a lot of people would have cracked under the pressure.
It’s been over twenty years since the film came out, but if you’ve seen the movie, you already know the scene I’m going to discuss. It should come as no surprise because it was the ultimate, extremely high-stakes, STEM Challenge!
Carbon dioxide was reaching dangerous levels in the cabin. The crew had filters, but they were for another part of the ship and were the wrong shape. Thus, NASA engineers were presented with one of the most dramatic STEM Challenges ever.
How the Movie Compares to Real Life …
Incredible! This scene gives me chills every time. Isn’t it awesome — in the truest sense of the word — that this group of engineers saved the lives of the crew with their design?! Imagine the pressure they must have felt, crunched for time and with such limited materials to make it work! But they didn’t give up. They made it work!
This story is so inspiring to share with students! Sure, most STEM Challenges don’t require one to save lives in a uber-dramatic fashion, yet practicing thinking creatively and flexibly to solve problems ultimately prepares you for such unlikely “impossible” situations.
STEM Challenges are fun, but they are so much more than that! The story of the Apollo 13 mission illustrates that point perfectly, don’t you think?