Gene Kranz, NASA Flight Director

gene kranz apollo 11

In honor of the breathtaking Apollo 11 mission, I decided to watch the movie “Apollo 13”. During the launch scene, I started to think back to the time when the whole family was sitting in the family room at our home in Southern California, watching Neil Armstrong step onto the Moon, saying “that’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind”. I literally can remember that time just like it was yesterday!

Then I started to do a little research on Gene Kranz, who I knew from the movie was the lead NASA Flight Director for Apollo 13, and I wanted to find out if he was also involved in Apollo 11. I read on Wikipedia that Kranz was a flight director for all the odd-numbered Apollo missions, and he was the shift #2 director at the time the Lunar Module Eagle landed on the Moon. As Tom Hanks said while playing Commander Jim Lovell in the movie, “Gene Kranz is gonna have puppies”.

I read on another website that Kranz was considered a remarkable leader, overseeing the Apollo 13 mission probably being his most well known achievement. And it was also Kranz that contributed to NASA rededicating itself after the Apollo 1 tragedy, by calling together the flight controllers after the tragedy to give them his “Kranz Dictum” speech:

“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.”

Kranz showed his Tought and Competent ability, along with his emotional humility, when he brought Apollo 13 astronauts Lovell, Haise, and Swigert safely home.


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