The Value of Ingenuity

Thursday, April 29, 2010
By SeattleTool

Thanks to Hollywood, when people hear the words Apollo Thirteen, the image of actor Tom Hanks pops immediately to mind.

But this month -- exactly forty years after the fateful lunar mission that saw the brightest minds at NASA come up with a way of bringing the seemingly doomed crew back to earth -- three Canadian ‘nobodies’ were honored for their crucial role in the rescue.

The three former University of Toronto engineering professors weren’t invited to the Oscar parties when the film Apollo 13 was nominated for Best Picture in 1995. They weren’t even mentioned in the film . . . not even the ubiquitous deleted scenes found on DVD.

But Bernard Etkin, Barry French and Philip Sullivan played very crucial roles in saving the crew of the real life Apollo 13 and they did it quickly with the help of . . . a slide rule.

While in a meeting together April 13, 1970 the three Canadians received a phone call from NASA requesting their help putting together life saving calculations that would provide the exact amount of pressure required to push the damaged spacecraft and its entry module apart.

The astronauts could not return to earth as long as the two remained together. If the calculations directed the astronauts to apply too much pressure, irreparable damage (and certain death) would result. If the pressure was not substantial enough, the two vessels would fail to separate at all.

NASA gave the three Canadians four hours to come up with the complex formula needed to perform the one-of-a-kind maneuver in space. At the time, the men assumed that they were just one team of many across the globe who were tackling the same ‘mother of all pop quizzes’. In fact, they were the only ones.

It was all on their shoulders and they didn’t even know it. Talk about pressure.

But back to that slide rule. As tools go, the slide rule -- battery and micro-chip free -- has played a critical role in the design of thousands of other lifesaving inventions. While the slide rule became obsolete with the advent of the pocket calculator, it’s usefulness as a tool helped build societies all over the globe from the 1600’s through to the 1960’s. And so much of what we see today is built on the foundations constructed with the help of that low tech device.

Hand tools share a similar history and importance. But, lucky for us, their very nature has prohibited them from meeting the same fate as the slide rule. At Seattle Tool we see tools as an extension of the bright minds and capable hands they are connected to. In the same way that aforementioned slide rule was worthless without the minds that manipulated it into a lifesaving device, our tools might as well be paperweights or boat anchors if not for the creative, problem solvers who use them.

That’s why, when our customers use our products to make lives better, we couldn’t be prouder to be part of the equation. 

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