If you’re still awake at 9:07 tonight – Houston, Texas time – take a moment to mark the occasion. Because it was in that minute, fifty years ago tonight, that oxygen tank # 2 in the service module of the Apollo 13 moon mission exploded, imperiling the lives of the three astronauts aboard.

In the first hours after the explosion, it was responsibly estimated that those three men – Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise – had, at best, a ten percent chance of returning safely to the earth. In the event, their command module splashed down quite gently in the Pacific, four days later.

The story of that fateful odyssey – and indeed, of the whole space program up to that point – is told beautifully in Jim Lovell’s and Jeffrey Kruger’s book Apollo 13 (the original title, reflecting Lovell’s personal disappointment, was Lost Moon.) Though replete with technical detail, the book never fails to keep us riveted, as the three astronauts in space, and the hundreds of people on the ground, work the enormous problem.

We grownups certainly have time to read the book Apollo 13 these housebound days. But especially if you’ve children of any age at home with you, I urge you also (not instead) to watch Ron Howard’s 1995 film with them. As I said to Mr. Howard the one time I met him – on a plane, years ago – this is how our grandchildren will learn about that transcendent episode of American courage, grit and ingenuity.

I would particularly draw your and the kids’ attention to the moment in the film when the rocket scientists in Houston begin working one of the disaster’s serial problems using slide rules. (I don’t doubt that you’ll have to explain to them what a slide rule was.) And why? Because NASA’s mainframe computers were so far behind all the computations they were being asked to perform that the engineers couldn’t wait for the answers.

For this, remember, was the spring of 1970, and the microprocessor – the single most important invention in the history of mankind – was still in its earliest infancy. (Intel’s breakthrough chip technology was almost a year away.)

You will then get to point out – to the wondering eyes of your middle school children or grandchildren – that the entry-level smartphone they carry in their backpacks is (very conservatively) a thousand times smaller, a thousand times more powerful, and a million times cheaper than all the computing power NASA had at its command fifty years ago tonight.

In their own way, the implications of this fact are as dramatic as is the saga of Apollo 13 itself. Because they speak to the larger issue of mankind’s technological progress, which has been during these fifty years – and continues to be – exponential.

In these dark days of the coronavirus pandemic, this is a critically important thing to remember, as we coach our clients into and through two-person, thirty-year retirements. And especially as we work to create legacies for those children and grandchildren.

In that vein, it will be useful to note that, at last Friday’s close, the S&P 500 stood thirty times higher than it closed on April 13, 1970. The cash dividend was eighteen times higher in 2019 than in 1970. (Indeed, on your 4/13/70 original cost, your cash dividend yield last year was 66%. As Casey Stengel memorably and repeatedly said, “You could look it up.”) The CPI cost of living: up a tad less than seven times. American common stocks were and are the most efficient long-term inflation hedge ever crafted by man.

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