Gene Kranz

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Gene Kranz
Gene kranz2.jpg
Gene Kranz c. 2005
Born Eugene Francis Kranz
(1933-08-17) August 17, 1933 (age 81)
Toledo, Ohio
Other names Gene Kranz
Alma mater Saint Louis University's Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology
Occupation Flight director during Gemini and Apollo programs; Director of NASA Mission Operations
Years active 1960-1994
Employer NASA (Retired)
Known for Lead flight director during Apollo 13
Predecessor Chris Kraft (first Lead Flight Director)
Religion Catholic
Spouse(s) Marta Cadena
Children 6
Parents Leo Peter Kranz (father)
Awards Presidential Medal of Freedom
NASA Distinguished Service Medal
NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal
NASA Exceptional Service Medal

Eugene Francis "Gene" Kranz (born August 17, 1933) is a retired NASA Flight Director and manager. Kranz served as a Flight Director, the successor to NASA founding Flight Director Chris Kraft, during the Gemini and Apollo programs, and is best known for his role in directing the successful Mission Control team efforts to save the crew of Apollo 13, which later became the subject story of a major motion picture of the same name. He is also noted for his trademark close-cut flattop hairstyle, and the wearing of dapper white "mission" vests (waistcoats), of different styles and materials made by his wife, Marta Kranz, during missions for which he acted as Flight Director. A personal friend of the American astronauts of his time, Kranz remains a prominent and colorful figure in the history of U.S. manned space exploration, the embodiment of "NASA tough-and-competent" of the Kranz Dictum. Kranz has been the subject of movies, documentary films, and books and periodical articles. Kranz is a recipient of a Presidential Medal of Freedom.[1] In a 2010 Space Foundation survey, Kranz was ranked as the #2 most popular space hero.[2]

Early years[edit]

Kranz was born in Toledo, Ohio and attended Central Catholic High School. He grew up on a farm that overlooked the Willys-Overland Jeep production plant. His father, Leo Peter Kranz, was the son of a German immigrant, and served as an Army medic during World War I. His father died in 1940, when Eugene was only seven years old. Kranz has two older sisters, Louise and Helen.

His early fascination with flight was apparent in the topic of his high school thesis, entitled "The Design and Possibilities of the Interplanetary Rocket". Kranz graduated from Saint Louis University's Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology in 1954, and received his commission as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, completing pilot training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas in 1955. Shortly after receiving his wings, Kranz married Marta Cadena, a daughter of Mexican immigrants who fled from Mexico during the Mexican Revolution. Kranz was sent to South Korea to fly the F-86 Sabre aircraft for patrol operations around the Korean DMZ.[3]

After finishing his tour in Korea, Kranz left the Air Force and went to work for McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, where he assisted with the research and testing of new Surface-to-Air (SAM) and Air-to-Ground missiles for the U.S. Air Force at its Research Center at Holloman Air Force Base.

NASA career[edit]

Kranz at his console on May 30, 1965, in the Mission Operations Control Room, Mission Control Center, Houston.

After completing the research tests at Holloman Air Force Base, Kranz left McDonnell-Douglas and joined the NASA Space Task Group, then at its Langley Research Center in Virginia. Upon joining NASA, he was assigned, by flight director Christopher C. Kraft, as a Mission Control procedures officer for the unmanned MR-1 test (dubbed in Kranz's autobiography as the "Four-Inch Flight", due to its failure to launch).

As Procedures Officer, Kranz was put in charge of integrating Mercury Control with the Launch Control Team at Cape Canaveral, Florida, writing the "Go/NoGo" procedures that allowed missions to continue as planned or be aborted, along with serving as a sort of switchboard operator between the control center at Cape Canaveral and the agency's fourteen tracking stations and two tracking ships (via Teletype) located across the globe. Kranz performed this role for all unmanned and manned Mercury flights, including the trailblazing MR-3 and MA-6 flights, which put the first Americans into space and orbit respectively.

After MA-6, he was promoted to Assistant Flight Director for the MA-7 flight of astronaut Scott Carpenter in May, 1962. He continued in this role for the remaining two Mercury flights and the first three Gemini flights. With the upcoming Gemini flights, he was promoted to the Flight Director level and served his first shift, the so-called "operations shift," for the Gemini 4 mission in 1965, the first U.S. EVA and four-day flight. After Gemini, he served as a Flight Director on odd-numbered Apollo missions, including Apollos 7 and 9. He was the Flight Director for Apollo 11, during the moment when the Lunar Module Eagle landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969.

Apollo 13[edit]

Kranz is perhaps best known for his role as lead flight director during NASA's Apollo 13 manned Moon landing mission. Kranz's team was on duty when part of the Apollo 13 service module exploded and they dealt with the initial hours of the unfolding accident. His "White Team", dubbed the "Tiger Team" by the press, set the constraints for the consumption of spacecraft consumables (oxygen, electricity, and water) and controlled the three course-correction burns during the trans-Earth trajectory, as well as the power-up procedures that allowed the astronauts to land safely back on Earth in the command module. He and his team, as well as the astronauts, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for their roles.

In the 2008 Discovery Channel mini-series When We Left Earth, he appears throughout the series with his customary flattop haircut and his white vest from the Apollo 13 mission (mission patch plainly visible)—a clue to the mission for which Kranz has the greatest pride as the NASA MSC flight director ("Crew safety is the first priority"—Kranz).

Later career[edit]

Kranz continued as a Flight Director through Apollo 17, when he worked his last shift as a flight director overseeing the mission liftoff, and then was promoted to Deputy Director of NASA Mission Operations in 1974, becoming Director in 1983. He retired from NASA in 1994 after the successful STS-61 flight that repaired the optically flawed Hubble Space Telescope in 1993. In addition to having written Failure Is Not An Option, which was adapted for cable TV for The History Channel in 2004, he also flies an aerobatic aircraft and serves as a flight engineer for a restored B-17 Flying Fortress.

Kranz's vest and pin from the Apollo 13 mission, currently in the National Air and Space Museum

Family[edit]

Kranz has six children with his wife, Marta: Carmen (born 1958), Lucy (1959), Joan Frances (1961), Mark (1963), Brigid (1964), and Jean Marie (1966).

In pop culture[edit]

Ed Harris plays Kranz in the 1995 film, Apollo 13, and received an Oscar nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role.

Dan Butler portrayed Kranz in the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.

Matt Frewer portrayed Kranz in the 1996 TV movie Apollo 11.

Gene Kranz has also been featured in several documentaries based upon NASA film archives, among the 2004 Failure Is Not An Option narrated by actor Scott Glenn, co-star of the film The Right Stuff, in recurring broadcasts by the History Channel based on the best-selling book, and the 2008 Discovery Channel When We Left Earth narrated by actor Gary Sinise, co-star of the film Apollo 13. He is also prominently featured in the History Channel’s 2005 Beyond the Moon: Failure Is Not an Option 2, also narrated by Scott Glenn.

The independent video game Kerbal Space Program features a flight controller based on Gene Kranz, named Gene Kerman, as a non-player character.

"Failure is not an option"[edit]

Kranz has become associated with the phrase "failure is not an option". It was uttered by actor Ed Harris, playing Kranz, in the 1995 film Apollo 13. Kranz then used it as the title of his 2000 autobiography. Later it became the title of a 2004 television documentary about NASA, as well as of that documentary's sequel, Beyond the Moon: Failure Is Not an Option 2. Since then, it has entered general parlance as a motivational phrase. Kranz now even travels all over the world giving a motivational lecture titled "Failure Is Not an Option". Kranz has even given it in the historic Apollo 13 Flight Control Room.[4]

"Failure is not an option" was in fact coined by Bill Broyles, one of the screenwriters of Apollo 13, based on a similar statement made not by Kranz, but another member of the Apollo 13 mission control crew, FDO Flight Controller Jerry Bostick. According to Bostick:[5]

"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.[6] 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.

Teams, "the human factor" and "the right stuff"[edit]

Kranz was the leader of the "white team", a shift at mission control that contributed to saving the Apollo 13 astronauts. Though Apollo 13 did not achieve its main objective, to Kranz its astronauts' rescue is an example of the "human factor" born out of the 1960s space race. According to Kranz, this factor is what is largely responsible for helping put America on the Moon in only a decade. The blend of young intelligent minds working day in and day out by sheer willpower yielded "the right stuff."

Gene Kranz had this to say about the "human factor":

"They were people who were energized by a mission. And these teams were capable of moving right on and doing anything America asked them to do in space."

According to him, a few organized examples of this factor included Grumman, who developed the Apollo Lunar Module, North American Aviation, and the Lockheed Corporation. After the excitement of the 1960s, these companies dissolved into corporate mergings, such as happened when Lockheed became Lockheed Martin. Another example of the "human factor" was the ingenuity and hard work by teams that developed the emergency plans and sequences as new problems arose during the Apollo 13 mission.

Gene Kranz, uncharacteristically wearing a dark vest (probably during a training drill) (NASA picture)

"The Kranz Dictum"[edit]

Kranz called a meeting of his branch and flight control team on the Monday morning following the Apollo 1 disaster that killed Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. Kranz made the following address to the gathering (The Kranz Dictum), in which his expression of values and admonishments for future spaceflight are his legacy to NASA:

"Spaceflight will never tolerate carelessness, incapacity, and neglect. Somewhere, somehow, we screwed up. It could have been in design, build, or test. Whatever it was, we should have caught it. We were too gung ho about the schedule and we locked out all of the problems we saw each day in our work. Every element of the program was in trouble and so were we. The simulators were not working, Mission Control was behind in virtually every area, and the flight and test procedures changed daily. Nothing we did had any shelf life. Not one of us stood up and said, 'Dammit, stop!' I don't know what Thompson's committee will find as the cause, but I know what I find. We are the cause! We were not ready! We did not do our job. We were rolling the dice, hoping that things would come together by launch day, when in our hearts we knew it would take a miracle. We were pushing the schedule and betting that the Cape would slip before we did.

From this day forward, Flight 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. We will never again compromise our responsibilities. Every time we walk into Mission Control we will know what we stand for. 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. When you leave this meeting today you will go to your office and the first thing you will do there is to write 'Tough and Competent' on your blackboards. It will never be erased. Each day when you enter the room these words will remind you of the price paid by Grissom, White, and Chaffee. These words are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control."

After the Space Shuttle Columbia accident in 2003, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe quoted this speech in a discussion about what changes should be made in response to the disaster. Referring to the words "tough and competent," he said, "These words are the price of admission to the ranks of NASA and we should adopt it that way."

Feelings about life after the Moon[edit]

Kranz felt that much of the "human factor" dried up after the Moon landings, particularly due to the nation seeing the Moon landings as a short-term goal against the Russians — and not much more. When asked in spring 2000 if NASA is still the same place today compared to the years of the space race, he replied:

"No. In many ways we have the young people, we have the talent, we have the imagination, we have the technology. But I don't believe we have the leadership and the willingness to accept risk, to achieve great goals. I believe we need a long-term national commitment to explore the universe. And I believe this is an essential investment in the future of our nation — and our beautiful, but environmentally challenged planet."


However, in his book Failure Is Not an Option, he also expressed disappointment that support for space exploration dried up after the Apollo program—indeed, the last three Apollo flights were cancelled. His vision for renewing the space program includes:

"Revitalize NASA. Lacking a clear goal the team that placed an American on the Moon, NASA, has become just another federal bureaucracy beset by competing agendas and unable to establish discipline within its structure. Although NASA has an amazing array of technology and the most talented workforce in history, it lacks top-level vision. It began its retreat from the inherent risks of space exploration after the Challenger accident. During the last decade its retreat has turned into a rout. The NASA Administrator is appointed by the President and to a great degree represents the current President's views on space. If space is put on the national agenda for the coming national election [2000], a newly elected President will have the opportunity to select new top-level NASA leadership that is committed and willing to take the steps to rebuild the space agency and get America's space program moving again."


Honors[edit]

  • American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics: Lawrence Sperry Award, 1967
  • Saint Louis University: Alumni Merit Award, 1968; Founders Award, 1993
  • NASA Exceptional Service Medal - 1969 and 1970
  • Downtown Jaycees of Washington D.C. Arthur S. Fleming Award - One of ten outstanding young men in government service in 1970
  • NASA Distinguished Service Medal - 1970, 1982, and 1988
  • NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal - 1973, 1993
  • NASA SES Meritorious Executive - 1980, 1985 and 1992
  • American Astronautical Society: AAS Fellow, 1982; Spaceflight Award 1987
  • Robert R. Gilruth Award, 1988, North Galveston County Jaycees
  • The National Space Club; Astronautics Engineer of the Year Award, 1992
  • Theodore Von Karman Lectureship, 1994
  • Recipient of the 1995 History of Aviation Award for the "Safe return of the Apollo 13 Crew," Hawthorne, California
  • Honorary Doctor of Engineering Degree from the Milwaukee School of Engineering, 1996
  • Louis Bauer Lecturer, Aerospace Medical Association, 2000
  • Selected for "2004 and 2006 Gathering of Eagles" honoring Aerospace and Aviation Pioneers at the Air Force Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell AFB, Alabama
  • John Glenn Lecture, Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, 2005
  • Lloyd Nolen, Lifetime Achievement in Aviation Award, 2005
  • Wright Brothers Lecture — Wright Patterson AFB, 2006
  • NASA Ambassador of Exploration, 2006
  • Rotary National Award for Space Achievement's National Space Trophy, 2007

References[edit]

  1. ^ The American Presidency Project - Remarks on Presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Apollo 13 Mission Operations Team in Houston - April 18, 1970
  2. ^ "Space Foundation Survey Reveals Broad Range of Space Heroes". 
  3. ^ Gene Kranz (2009). Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1439148815. 
  4. ^ Video on YouTube
  5. ^ "ORIGIN OF APOLLO 13 QUOTE:"FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION."". SpaceActs.com. Retrieved October 23, 2009. 
  6. ^ Stephen Cass (2005). "Apollo 13, We Have a Solution". Part II: Page 3. IEEE Spectrum magazine. Retrieved October 20, 2007. 

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