Apollo 13 launched April 11th, 1970 with tens of thousands of eye witnesses as was usual for any "moon shot." Apollo 13 landed April 17th, 1970 with the world watching. We had plenty of eyewitnesses for that and a record television audience. What happened in between held the world spell bound. I think any reasonable person would say there was an Apollo 13 mission and it was epic.
At 55 hours, 54 minutes and 53 seconds into the mission, during a routine stirring of the contents of one of the oxygen tanks in the service module, there was an explosion. The side of the service module literally blew out.
The service module was the supply container, main power supply and the main steering device for the command module, the pointed tip of the rocket where the three men stayed while traveling to the moon and back. Without it the men couldn't live in the command module for long. The service module had oxygen and fuel cells for electricity. The command module had only batteries and a small oxygen supply intended for the short earth descent.
When they realized that the service module was dying, that is losing all power and oxygen, the men powered up the lunar module for a "lifeboat." The LEM or Lunar Excursion Module had been designed to support two men on the moon for two days, it now had to support three men for four days if the astronauts were going to come home alive. Critical information was entered into the landing module's computer as it was powered up and then something really scary was done. Something that had never been done before. Something that many people had thought would be certain death for the crew if it ever happened. They shut down the command module.
Why did they take this dangerous action? Because the batteries on the command module would never last until the time for earth reentry and landing. If they wanted it to work during the earth reentry and landing, they had to shut it down now. There had never been a plan to restart the command module in space. This wasn't just a restart, it would be a cold restart. The command module would become very cold in space with the power shut off. Batteries get weaker when they are cold. Electronics can act funny and even just stop when they are cold. I remember how my first liquid crystal watch would go blank when I was outside in cold weather. Something like that is what the technicians were afraid would happen to the command module computer. No one knew if it would work, but it had to work for the men to come home alive. They had no choice.
In the lunar module the men soon became cold and wet. They had problems with excessive carbon dioxide levels in the air. They were crowded into a very confined space, three men in a space that was cramped for two. But they patiently waited for the return to earth and the reboot of the command module that would take them the last leg of the way.
On earth technicians used a mock up of the command module to work out a procedure to restart the one in space. It wasn't going well. The start up procedure drew too much power and overloaded an electrical supply bus. That wasn't the only problem, but it seemed to be the most impossible one to overcome of all the impossible problems.
Finally, they figured out how to restart a command module after it had been shutdown in the middle of a mission on earth, but there was no guarantee it would work in the cold environment of space. It did work and the crew came home. After the event was over, every minute, every second and every action and possibility was examined and reexamined of the mission. It was discovered that if the command module had been shut down only a little longer, it was highly unlikely it could have been restarted in space. There was a point of no return for a cold command module that was shut down.
So what does that have to do with the economy? In the big picture, more than you might think.
We shut down the economy, just flipped the switch and sent everyone home. Now the economy is getting cold. In the history of mankind, no civilization has ever shutdown an economy like we just shutdown an economy. I think it is fair to argue that we did it based on misleading information and that the deaths and suffering from the shutdown will surpass the deaths and suffering from the virus, but it makes little difference now, we have already done it.
I am not saying that a lot of people didn't die from the virus, they surely did. They had mass graves in countries and Japan had a rain where they were covered in soot from whatever they were burning in China. A lot of people think it was the dead that had died from the virus. The best explanation of why it wasn't so bad here is that it mutated. Scientists have said they now have identified 40 different variations of the virus. The flu changes from year to year, evidently this changed as it went from country to country.
Whether they should have shutdown our economy is a moot point. They did.
It reminds me of something my grandfather would say. He told me how he had to suffer through a lot of things in life because he had no choice. I would ask him how he made it through some tragedy or trial he faced during the Great Depression or some loss he had suffered personally or in business and he would say, "I was like the blue jay."
He had told me the story of a young boy that caught a bird, a blue jay and he started pulling the feathers off of it to see what it looked like underneath. An old man saw him and said, "Son, quit pulling those feathers off of that bird, he can't stand that!" The boy looked up after pulling the last feather off and replied, "I have already done it, he will just have to stand it."
When things happened to my grandfather and he had no choice in the matter, he was the blue jay, he had to stand it. Today, we are the blue jay. Our leaders pulled the feathers off of our economy.
As I am writing this the official figures show 30 million people in the United States are laid off. We saw over 6 million people laid off from work in one week. During the Great Depression the peak was less than 700 thousand. In ways you could say that number is ten times worse than the Great Depression. That is not the worst of it. We are seeing surveys that show for every ten people laid off and have filed for unemployment, there may be 3 or 4 that haven't filed or don't qualify for unemployment from their job and maybe 4 or 5 small business owners with no income. The actual number out of work may be closer to 60 million or even more. The truth is we just don't know, we don't have good numbers with any history behind them.
Recently I saw a study that said 26% to 28% of the restaurants will not reopen. I spoke with a woman working Walmart this week. Her family owns a restaurant. She works at Walmart for the family's health insurance. She said there was no way they could reopen. They didn't have the money for the food and supplies to replace what they had lost, they knew that fewer people would be coming in to eat since the social distancing rules have become popular, the people outside of the family that worked there were getting more money to stay at home than work now. She said it was hopeless and they had lost everything. This was another business that was closed forever and they could not pass it on to their children.
I saw another study that predicted that of the restaurants that did manage to reopen and that is if the restrictions were lifted quickly, 18% to 22% probably wouldn't make it 90 days. Food shortages, labor shortages, fewer customers and higher operating costs.
Hotels, motels, movie theaters, shopping malls, department stores, concert halls, sports complexes and franchises, hair salons and barbershops, the list goes on and on.
There are currently about 20 meat processing plants that are shut down. This week farmers plowed under millions of pounds of potatoes that were rotting, dumped thousands of gallons of milk they couldn't get processed, killed 200,000 hogs in just one state and destroyed them and then crushed hundreds of thousands of eggs that had no cartons to fill.
In San Diego, almost half of the residents went to a food bank to get food this week and the Mormons sent out 400,000 pounds of food from their food banks to feed the hungry, much of it going to Washington D.C. We are talking about hunger in Washington D.C.
Farmers are trying to decide if with food rotting in the fields and storehouses, should they plant another crop or wait it out a year? In some states you can't even buy seed and fertilizer.
The smaller oil companies are already filing for bankruptcy. With demand so low with the stay at home orders and countries trying to pump and sell as much oil as possible to keep their economy afloat, the prices have dropped so fast and so low, that a week ago when there was oil to be delivered and no one to buy it and no place to store it, they actually paid people to take it away. There are hundreds of oil tankers around the world sitting in the ocean with nowhere to drop their oil.
We have car carrier ships with new cars that are waiting off shore until they can dump the cars onto a lot somewhere. With no one buying new cars the dealer's lots filled up, then the local factory and storage lots filled up, then the carrier ships had nowhere to unload and the factories shutdown.
We are seeing the inventory for power transformers dropping. These are the power transformers that are vital in getting power to your house. We aren't making them and with spring storms and the usual failures, we are digging into our supply.
Pharmacies are running out of medicines. This week I heard of a pharmacist that had to call the doctor three times to find a medicine they actually could get to fill a patient's prescription.
Friday I placed an order at the drive through of a restaurant and the clerk took my money. In a minute she came back and said, "The other clerk sold the last one, I am sorry, is there anything else I could get you?"
It isn't just a toilet paper shortage we are seeing.
We are seeing economists talking about "Economic Deaths" deaths caused by a downturn in the economy. Elderly already suffering from poor nutrition, poor housing and poor health care for example. They shutdown the hospitals for just about anything that wasn't virus related. We have seen the only pandemic where healthcare workers were laid off and couldn't work. People aren't getting the surgeries and treatments they need and in time that can be fatal and we are hearing reports that for some it probably already is.
Suicides, drug overdoses, child and spousal abuse, hunger, there are many things that come with poverty. Losing homes is next. The latest number says 7% of home mortgages are behind on payments and we haven't seen the peak of the economic downturn. People will lose their homes, I don't know how many, but it will be too many for sure.
So what am I saying? I am saying we are at that point Apollo 13 was when it was practically impossible to reboot the command module and it would have been impossible if they had waited any longer.
We are at that point where we can reboot the economy, like the Apollo 13 mission rebooted the command module, if we hurry and there will be difficulties and hardship and even some deaths, but it won't be a disaster we can't recover from, a disaster for sure, but one we can recover from...if we hurry.
For goodness sakes, let the healthcare workers go back to work. Let the farmers plant and figure out a way to move food to places where it is needed. For goodness sakes, restart the meat processing plants with regular disinfecting and revised hygiene rules.
If you are at risk or uncomfortable with going out, then stay in if you can. If you aren't afraid or at risk, then go get a haircut so the stylist can put some food on their table.
Mission Control, we are ready to reboot!
Best and be blest,
Scott Hogue CCFC, CCA