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Chris Kraft, NASA's first flight director, dies at 95

Chris Kraft, NASA's first flight director, dies at 95

Kraft once said he set up mission control to monitor spacecraft systems, interact with astronauts in space and to stand ready, spring-loaded to "figure out all the things that could go wrong and be prepared to deal with them".

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Kraft's name isn't one you normally see alongside the likes of Neil Armstrong when discussing the incredible feats of the Apollo missions, but make no mistake, he was a major piece of the puzzle and a driving force that gave NASA an edge over its rivals.

Kraft never stopped supporting his alma mater, donating hundreds of flight mission documents and even a moon rock.

Back during the earliest days of NASA, the head of the agency's Space Task Group, Robert Gilruth, assigned Kraft the job of drawing up rules and procedures for safely managing the flight of a human into space.

Tillar learned about Kraft when he became NASA's first flight director.

Christopher C. Kraft Jr., at his console in the Mission Control Center during Gemini-4 spaceflight on June 4, 1965.

"Chris was a true pioneer of the space program". Dr. Kraft served as director of the Johnson Space Center from January 17, 1972, to August 7, 1982. At the naming ceremony, Lunney said, "The Control Center today...is a reflection of Chris Kraft". In a 2012 interview, Kraft stated bluntly: "I'm here to tell you that's bullshit because I worked my fanny off to try to do it".

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During the Apollo programme, Kraft was responsible for overall human spaceflight mission planning, training and execution.

In 1958, he became one of 35 members of NASA's Space Task Group which planned the first US space missions during project Mercury.

KRAFT: We allowed poor workmanship to happen. "He proved the need for real-time leadership", Kranz wrote in his book, "Failure Is Not An Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond".

Born in Phoebus, Virginia, on 28 February 1924, Christopher Columbus Kraft joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in 1945 following his graduation.

Tillar would get to know Kraft while serving as Tech's Vice President for Alumni Relations, spending time with him during visits to western Virginia, and in 2015, at his home in Houston. In 1944, he graduated with one of the first degrees in that field awarded by the Virginia Polytechnic Institute (known now Virginia Tech).

Later, as the space shuttle program was being phased out after 30 years, Kraft blasted as foolish the decision to retire the shuttles, which he called "the safest machines ever built".

Recalling the 1986 Challenger explosion, he seemed to still think of himself as part of the team, saying, "We weren't willing on the shuttle to fix the O-rings in the boosters".

Compared to the 350 to 400 people working on human spaceflight (as far as the government was concerned) when JFK announced the Moon was the goal, Apollo swelled to become a 400,000-person monster. We threw a narrow flash of light across our nation's history. He married his high school sweetheart, Betty Anne Turnbull, in 1950.