THIRTY-NINE years ago on April 11, 1970, Apollo 13 blasted off its launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center on Florida's east coast.

This was the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (Nasa) third mission to the moon, and it was not broadcast over the air. The television networks decided that travelling to the moon was a routine occurrence.

Put to the test

But two days after its launch, the Apollo 13 spacecraft was crippled by the explosion of an oxygen tank in its service module.

Facing death and insurmountable technical challenges, the only solution was for the astronauts to abort their planned lunar landing, swing around the moon and get on a free-return trajectory back to earth.

From the moment the spacecraft lifted off and until it landed back on earth, it was in the hands of flight controllers at Mission Control in Houston, Texas.

The controllers watched every movement the crew and spacecraft made, double checked every number to be sure missions were proceeding as expected, and provided the expertise needed to deal with the unexpected.

The Flight Controllers' Creed stated that they must "always be aware that suddenly and unexpectedly they may find themselves in a role where their performance has ultimate consequences".

The creed was put to the test by Apollo 13 commander James Lovell's famous radio message to Mission Control: "Houston, we've had a problem." (Lovell was played by actor Tom Hanks in the movie Apollo 13, which captured all the drama of that fateful space flight.)

Mission Control's heroic efforts in bringing the Apollo 13 astronauts home safely were in part borne out of an earlier crisis. Three astronauts died in a fire during a pre-flight test of Apollo 1.

After the tragic accident, Mr Gene Kranz, who served as the flight director for Apollo 13, said: "From this day forward, Mission Control will be known by two words: 'Tough' and 'Competent'.

"Tough means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do.

"Competent means we will never take anything for granted. We will never be found short in our knowledge and in our skills. Mission Control will be perfect."

The Apollo 13 crisis tested the mettle of both Mission Control and the astronauts.

The lunar excursion module had become the crew's lifeboat, but it had sufficient oxygen to support only two astronauts for two days. The journey home for the three astronauts would take four days.

Racing against time, Mission Control worked with the astronauts to build a device out of plastic bags, cardboard and tape to extend the oxygen supply in the spacecraft.

On April 17, shortly after noon, Apollo 13 splashed down safely in the Pacific Ocean and went into the history books as Nasa's "successful failure".

As the Apollo 13 story is retold time and again, one lesson is clear - it is the people who made the difference.

Had any team member not lived out his creed or was not competent enough to find the means to bring the astronauts back home safely, the mission outcome would have been tragically different.

Be tough and competent

As we face one of the worst financial crises in recent times, many people will find themselves in a role where their performance has "ultimate consequences".

Corporate layoffs will continue to loom in the headlines, cost-cutting measures will be rife and organisations will seek to restructure jobs to achieve higher productivity by doing more with less.

Getting a job in this kind of environment is certainly not routine.

To improve your chances, here are a few "tough and competent" guidelines:

* Set realistic goals (such as salary, position and title) based on your skills and level of competency. Be adaptable.

* Be familiar with professional certifications related to the job that you are seeking, and plan to achieve them.

* Plan well, research opportunities thoroughly and make sure your resum is updated and customised for each job application. Think out of the box and be prepared to work in new industries or countries.

* Highlight how you can bring value to your prospective company in tough times instead of focusing simply on your work history.

* Keep on top of your finances so that you don't have added stress. It is important to work out a personal budget, stick to it and spend within your means.

* Don't be afraid to ask for help. There are many government and private agencies providing free employment advice and support. Your friends can help too, whether it is referring you to opportunities in their organisation, proofreading your resum or doing a mock interview with you.

* Be positive. The job search process and the disappointment it might entail can sometimes be hard. It is essential to keep things in perspective and not take things too personally or dwell on the negatives. Instead, see every challenge as a step that is taking you towards your goals.