Failure Is Not an Option

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Failure Is Not an Option is a presentation on the History Channel documenting the United States' space program with insights from the flight engineers, project managers, flight controllers, astronauts, and others involved inside the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Speakers include Chris Kraft, Gene Kranz, Jim Lovell, Jerry Bostick, Ed Fendell, Gene Cernan, John Llewellen, John Aaron, Glynn Lunney, Wally Schirra, and Gerry Griffin. It takes the viewer from the Launch of Sputnik through the moon missions. It was produced in 2003.[1]

From the History Channel website:[2]

In 1957, the Soviet Union launched an unassuming orb into orbit around the earth. This satellite, the first ever to orbit the earth, started an unprecedented space race, and arms race, between the Soviet Union and the United States. The United States formed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to bring America to the forefront of space travel. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy pledged that the United States would put a man on the moon before the decade was out. NASA fulfilled that legacy in July 1969 when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon uttering the historic phrase "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Today, space travel is as much a part of our history as any other type of exploration. Astronauts today remain in space for weeks and months at a time with astronauts from other countries. But for the decades of the second half of the twentieth century, especially from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, NASA and its accomplishments were the focus of national pride and honor. Failure Is Not An Option tells the story of the men and women behind the space program — the men and women of mission control.

Failure Is Not An Option is also the title of an autobiographical book written by Gene Kranz[3] and, although he is often attributed with having spoken those words during the Apollo 13 mission, he did not. As to the origin of the phrase, the following story was given, citing an email by Apollo 13 FDO Flight Controller Jerry Bostick:[4]

"As far as the expression 'Failure is not an option', you are correct that Kranz never used that term. In preparation for the movie, the script writers, Al Reinart and Bill Broyles, came down to Clear Lake to interview me on "What are the people in Mission Control really like?" One of their questions was "Weren't there times when everybody, or at least a few people, just panicked?" My answer was "No, when bad things happened, we just calmly laid out all the options, and failure was not one of them. We never panicked, and we never gave up on finding a solution." I immediately sensed that Bill Broyles wanted to leave and assumed that he was bored with the interview. Only months later did I learn that when they got in their car to leave, he started screaming, "That's it! That's the tag line for the whole movie, Failure is not an option. Now we just have to figure out who to have say it." Of course, they gave it to the Kranz character, and the rest is history."

Kranz chose it as the title of his 2000 autobiography because he liked the way the line reflected the attitude of mission control.[5] In the book, he states, "a creed that we [NASA's Mission Control Center] all lived by: 'Failure is not an option'", though the book does not indicate that the phrase is apocryphal.

The association of the quote Failure is not an option with the Apollo 13 mission comes about due to its appearance in the film Apollo 13 uttered by Ed Harris, who was playing Gene Kranz, and said "We've never lost an American in space; we're sure as hell not going to lose one on my watch. Failure is not an option."[6][7]


  1. ^ "Failure Is Not an Option". The History Channel. 2003. The History Channel. 
  2. ^ "Special Presentation FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION" (PDF). Retrieved July 22, 2014. 
  3. ^ Kranz, Gene (2000). Failure Is Not An Option. Berkley Publishing. ISBN 0-425-17987-7. 
  4. ^ "ORIGIN OF APOLLO 13 QUOTE:"FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION."". Retrieved October 23, 2009. 
  5. ^ Stephen Cass (2005). "Apollo 13, We Have a Solution". Part II: Page 3. IEEE Spectrum magazine. Retrieved October 20, 2007. 
  6. ^ James Hibberd (29 November 2016). "Ed Harris discusses his 9 best movie roles". Entertainment Weekly. 
  7. ^ "The Failure Show". Word of Mouth. 19 February 2016. New Hampshire Public Radio (nhpr). 

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