Legendary NASA flight director Gene Kranz discusses Apollo 11, courage under fire

Hundreds of thousands of men and women made contributions to the success of the Apollo moon missions, but Friday night a crowded room listened to every word spoken by someone who never left Earth.

Gene Kranz served as flight director during Apollo 11, leading operations inside Mission Control. He delivered a keynote to a theater of hundreds of guests at Space Center Houston.

In his role in July 1969, he made critical decisions during the most dangerous parts of the historic first mission to the surface of the moon.

Over 37 years years, his NASA career spanned the Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, and Space Shuttle programs. However, Kranz may be best known for his “failure is not an option” motto that carried him through the Apollo 13 crisis.

Kranz retired from NASA in 1994 and his memoir is a New York Times bestseller. He’s now a highly sought-after speaker known for sharing those stories of courage and heroism under pressure.

As part of Space Center Houston’s ‘Apollo 11 50th Live’ celebration, he offered memories from his storied career, describing key moments in NASA early years from his perspective.

Kranz offered insight on the culture of trust and respect he instilled in his flight operations team. On the night of the lunar landing, he says he switched his headset to a private intercom to speak directly with the controllers.

“Today is our time and our place. We’ll celebrate this day and what we do here forever. In the next half hour, we will land an American on the moon. The risks are very high. That is the nature of our work. We work long hours and have had some tough times. But we have mastered our work and now we are going to make this work pay off. You are a hell of a good team, one I am privileged to lead. I will stand behind every decision you will make. We came into this room as a team and we will leave as a team.”

He described his frame of mind in the moments before the lunar module made its way to the moon’s surface.

“Momentarily, I feel like a conductor with my team preparing for the massive finale of a great symphony. My team is go. CAPCOM slowly and firmly passes the key words, ‘Eagle, you are go for powered descent.’”

Kranz isn’t the only notable Apollo-era figure taking part in the weekend’s activities. Former astronauts and Apollo-era flight controllers will join panels Saturday at the Space Center Houston.

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of KLTV/KTRE-TV or Gray Television. They are solely the opinion of the author. All content © Copyright 2019 Lane Luckie

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