Apollo 13 … please come back to Earth!

Apollo 13 was the seventh manned mission in the American Apollo space program and the third intended to land on the Moon. The craft was launched on April 11, 1970, at 13:13 CST from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, but the lunar landing was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded two days later, crippling the service module upon which the Command Module depended. Despite great hardship caused by limited power, loss of cabin heat, shortage of potable water, and the critical need to jury-rig the carbon dioxide removal system, the crew returned safely to Earth on April 17.

Apollo 13 and “American resourcefulness”

The astronauts of Apollo 13 had to do what they had to with limited resources, none of which were designed for the task at hand. But all the same, they made it work and gave us one of the great examples American ingenuity. It’s now time for this ingenuity to come home.

Thirty years ago, I used to hang out with an old friend of mine in North Dakota, Terry Summers. Terry helped run a barter exchange in Bismarck. The exchange was based on points, and Terry was paid entirely with barter points, no cash, no checks – just points usable only at companies on the barter exchange. Now for a lot of things, barter was sufficient.

There were restaurants and grocery stores on the exchange so food was no problem. Gas could be bartered, so Terry could get around. He even bartered his apartment. But there were things that couldn’t be bartered, utilities being one. Plus what happens if you want to leave town for a weekend. That was a problem.

Whenever Terry I got together, it was all about “conversion.” Terry had to convert his points to cash whenever he could. We’d eat only at restaurants on the exchange and I’d pay Terry my share in cash. I’d fill up my car at a gas station on the exchange using Terry’s points and I’d pay him cash. It was a constant pursuit of “conversion.” I liked it. It kept the synaptic connections popping.

Imagine if a community operated like Terry did or like the Apollo 13 astronauts had to. To take what have, the resources at your disposal and nothing else … and make it work. You make it work realizing what you really have and being creative with it. You have to, because you have no other option.

Instead of hiring a contractor to fix a playground, you enlist parents to volunteer. Instead of using city employees, employees your community can’t afford – you gather a group high school to pick up trash and plant flowers in a vacant public lot. Instead of hiring a teacher’s aid to students get up to speed, you get retirees to pitch in and to help the younger generation.

Every community has an abundance of resources. To identify and uncover these resources, is the trick. A top-notch web designer could be sitting in a high school English class. An unemployed electrician could be at home just be waiting for an opportunity to help his community rather spend another day sitting on the couch watching soap operas. A neighborhood card club might want to deliver homemade food to a shut-in rather play that hundredth hand of bridge.

These days, times are difficult for a lot people and in turn, a lot of communities. Unemployment is high and underemployment is even higher. Local municipalities are strapped and it’s only going to get worse. Anything not deemed as critical services have, or will be, cut to the bone. The community safety net is torn and the proverbial seamstress has been sent packing.

Now is the time to take an example from heroes of Apollo 13 and take what we have, and be resourceful. It’s time for your community to come together – and instead waiting for help … help itself.


I can be found on Twitter at @clayforsberg


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