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Test your survival skills

Butch Mazzuca
Butch Mazzuca |

Long before I retired I had the opportunity to attend a weeklong training seminar at the University of Michigan. During the week we discussed the many aspects of management and leadership (motivating people, team-building, measuring quality, etc.). One particular exercise stood out and has remained with me since.

The class was given a hypothetical problem to solve in three segments. On the first go-around we answered the questions individually. Next, we were divided into three groups of four to re-evaluate the problem and then reach consensus in our answers. Obviously, reaching consensus with four people took much longer than arriving at our answers individually.

Finally, the three groups of four were combined into a single group of 12 (the entire class) and we were again asked to re-evaluate the problem and reach consensus. Reaching consensus with 12 was exponentially more time-consuming than arriving at answers either individually or as a group of four.

The exercise was an illustration of the problem all managers face — balancing time constraints with consensus building. That is, while reaching consensus was far more time-consuming, the results (number of correct answers) improved as the number of individuals looking at the problem increased from one individual to a team of four and finally to the entire class.

It occurred to me that some of our readers might enjoy the challenge of completing the exercise themselves, so I decided to share it here. The answers and their rationale can be found in the “Answers to the moon exercise” section that follows, so try not to peek at the answers before beginning the exercise.

The problem

You are a member of a space crew scheduled to rendezvous with a mother ship on the lighted surface of the moon. However, due to mechanical difficulties, your own ship was forced to land at a spot 200 miles from the rendezvous point.

During re-entry and landing, much of the equipment aboard was damaged and, since survival depends on reaching the mothership, the most critical items available must be prioritized and chosen for the 200-mile trip.

There are 15 items listed as being intact and undamaged after landing. Your task is to rank them from one to 15 in terms of their importance for your crew (15 is the least important), to allow them to reach the rendezvous point.

The undamaged items from the crash: A box of matches; food concentrate; 50 feet of nylon rope; parachute silk; two .45 caliber pistols; one case of dehydrated milk; two 100-pound oxygen tanks; stellar map; self-inflating life raft; magnetic compass; five gallons of water; signal flares; first aid kit containing injection needles; solar powered FM receiver; a portable heating unit.

Your task

• Rank each item in order of importance.

• Write down how much your score differs from the NASA ranking. If you ranked an item number one but NASA ranked it third, then it means you have a differential of two.

• Disregard plus or minus differences. If you ranked an item as number five but NASA ranked it number one, then you were four points off. The same holds true if you ranked an item as number one and NASA gave it a five.

• Lastly, without looking at the answers that follow in the next paragraph, calculate how you differ from NASA for all 15 items and then total that number for your final score.

Answers to the moon exercise

1. Two 100-pound oxygen tanks: The most pressing survival need (weight not being a factor because the moon’s gravity is one-sixth of earth’s and the tanks would weigh 17 pounds).

2. Five gallons of water: Needed for replacement of tremendous liquid loss on the light side of the moon.

3. Stellar Map: Primary means of navigation — star patterns appear essentially identical on the moon as on Earth.

4. Food concentrate: Efficient means of supplying energy requirements.

5. Solar powered FM receiver: For communication with the mothership (but FM requires line-of-sight transmission and can only be used across short ranges).

6. 50 feet of nylon rope: useful in scaling cliffs and tying the injured together.

7. First aid kit including injection needle: Needles connected to vials of vitamins, medicines, etc. will fit a special aperture in NASA space suits.

8. Parachute silk: Protection from sun’s rays.

9. Self-inflating life raft: The CO2 bottle in military raft may be used for propulsion.

10. Signal flares: Use as distress signal when the mothership is sighted.

11. Two .45 caliber pistols: Possible means of self-propulsion.

12. One case of dehydrated milk: A bulkier duplication of food concentrate.

13. Portable heating unit: Not needed unless on the dark side of the moon.

14. Magnetic compass: The magnetic field on the moon is not polarized, so it’s worthless for navigation.

15. Box of matches: Virtually worthless—there’s no oxygen on the moon to sustain combustion.

How you rate

• 00 — 25: Excellent. Move over, Neil Armstrong.

• 26 — 32: Above average. Congratulations, you’ve made it to the mothership.

• 33 — 45: Average. You struggled, but at least you and your crew made it.

• 46 — 55: Fair. The best that can be said is that you’re still alive.

• 56 — 70: Poor. Don’t despair, not everyone is cut out for space travel.

• 71 or more: Good grief, next time take the train.

(Attribution to the NASA scientists and engineers who worked out the answers to this exercise and to Grahame Knox, its creator.)

Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes regularly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at bmazz68@comcast.net.


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