R.I.P. Christopher Columbus Kraft, the flight director for all the Mercury missions and later head of the Johnson Space Center during the 1960s march to the Moon, passed away today at the age of 95.
The techniques pioneered by Kraft and young flight directors who followed in his footsteps, men like Gene “failure is not an option” Kranz, the urbane Glynn Lunney and more, saved the Apollo 13 crew from the brink of disaster in the aftermath of an explosion on the way to the moon that severely damaged the spacecraft.
Once comparing his complex work as a flight director to a conductor’s, Kraft said, ‘The conductor can’t play all the instruments, he may not even be able to play any one of them,’” Bridenstine said. “‘But, he knows when the first violin should be playing, and he knows when the trumpets should be loud or soft, and when the drummer should be drumming. He mixes all this up and out comes music. That’s what we do here.’”
Kraft was part of the post-World War II can-do generation, a far cry from today’s NASA of schedule delays, bad management, engineering errors, and gigantic budget overruns. Kraft and his generation had “intergrity,” as astronaut Frank Borman once said. They had been given a difficult job and short deadline (the end of the decade). Rather than manipulate Congress and the public to give them more time and money so their jobs would be endlessly safe, they rolled up their sleeves and made it happen as quickly and as efficiently as possible.