• Directed Analytics

Complicated Goal Attainment Explained Using Apollo XIII

Updated: Jan 8

Representative Image of Apollo XIII Command Module (Top) & Service Module (Main Cylinder)

Do you remember the scene from Apollo XIII when the oxygen tank on the space vehicle exploded causing the mission to be aborted? As the Apollo XIII space & ground crew worked to understand the impacts of the explosion, it was determined that the Apollo XIII space crew would need to move from the Command Module to the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM). Before moving to the LEM, the space crew had to take the guidance software off the Command Module’s computer to load it onto the LEM’s computer. Additionally, the space crew had to accomplish this under a tight timeline because the Command Module’s power needed to be conserved and oxygen was running out.

Representative Image of Apollo Lunar Excursion Module

The overarching goal for the Apollo XIII team (space & ground crew) after the explosion was to develop and execute the steps necessary for safe reentry into the earth's atmosphere. To accomplish this feat, there were many hypotheses that had to be validated and many lower level goals (subgoals) that had to be attained.

After the space crew relocated to the LEM they were faced with yet another critical situation, the LEM had 5 carbon dioxide filters that were capable of filtering carbon dioxide for 2 men over 1.5 days not 3 men over 4 days. As a result, the carbon dioxide levels in the LEM rose to dangerous levels.

After the LEM carbon dioxide filter situation was discovered, the ground crew was given a subgoal of developing a solution that would lower carbon dioxide levels and maintain them to support the space crew during reentry. This solution would later be called the Apollo XIII "Lunar Mailbox." As we think about the methods used by the Apollo XIII crew (space & ground) to attain this subgoal we find that they applied the fundamental methods for human goal attainment and problem solving: Goal Focused Collaboration, Analyzation, Visualization, Rapid Iteration (try & verify).

Image of the Apollo XIII Lunar Module "Mailbox"

Now let’s briefly discuss these 4 fundamental methods in the context of how the ground team used them to attain their subgoal:

Expert Collaboration

An example of Goal Focused Expert Collaboration was when ground crew worked together and built upon each other’s diverse knowledge and ways of thinking to identify potential success factors that could result in the attainment of the subgoal and validated them.

One example of this was when the flight director, Gene Kranz (played by Ed Harris) introduced a hypothesis by instructing the team to take the carbon dioxide scrubbers from the Command Module and find a way to make the square cartridges from the Command Module’s carbon dioxide scrubber filters, fit in the round cartridges from the LEM’s carbon dioxide scrubber filters. The potential hypothesis here was fitting the square cartridges from the Command Module’s carbon dioxide scrubber filter into the LEM’s round mounted filtration hole would result in the attainment of the subgoal. The team then went off and worked together to prove that the identified hypothesis would result in the attainment of the subgoal.


Goal Focused Analyzation occurred when the ground crew mentally processed the information related to the attainment of the subgoal. The beauty of Goal Focused Analyzation here, is that it consisted of the unique thought processes of each team member. Goal Focused Analyzation is a critical component of the other 3 methods.


To fully understand what factors could contribute to the attainment of the subgoal the ground crew had to visualize the dimensions of the items that were available to the space crew to determine the items that could be used and how they could be assembled to validate the hypothesis.

Rapid Iteration

Though not shown in the movie, it goes without saying that the ground crew rapidly iterated on the assembly of the selected items by making adjustments as they conducted tests at various points. Additionally, the ground crew would have conducted a final verification of the filter device to ensure that it would result in the attainment of the subgoal prior to communicating the development procedures to the space crew.


These fundamental methods are at the essence of Complicated Goal Attainment. By applying these methods, the Apollo XIII team (space & ground crew) was able to attain their subgoal of developing and implementing a solution that would sufficiently filter the LEM's carbon dioxide levels; allowing them to execute the necessary procedures to successfully reenter the earth's atmosphere.

Representative Image of Apollo XIII Command Module Reentry

Over the last 6+ years, Directed Analytics has devoted its intellectual capital to developing the philosophy, theory, framework, and Controllable Software Solution for accelerating the realization of CGA at scale while taking into account the entirety of a system/organization to avoid pitfalls.

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