Comprehensive coverage

Chris Kraft has passed away - founded the NASA control room in Houston

Kraft led historic space missions and was one of the designers of the United States' path to space Edit date and time

Craft (center) with President Kennedy (left) in the control center, and with astronauts Alan Shepard (right) and John Glenn | Source: NASA
Craft (center) with President Kennedy (left) in the control center, and with astronauts Alan Shepard (right) and John Glenn | Source: NASA

"America has lost a real national treasure with the death of one of NASA's first pioneers," said the director of the American space agency, Jim Bridenstine, following the death of Chris Kraft, who founded and managed the flight control field at NASA. "He was part of the core of the team that helped launch Americans into space and to the moon, and it is hard to overstate the importance of his legacy."

Kraft, one of the founding nuclear men of NASA, passed away yesterday in Houston, Texas, just two days after the United States celebrated with the whole world the 50th anniversary of the historic landing of man on the moon.

From baseball to aviation

Christopher Columbus Kraft was born on February 28, 1924 in a small town in Virginia. In his youth he was not at all interested in aviation, and his focus was baseball games and playing in an orchestra. After graduating from high school, in 1941, he decided to study mechanical engineering at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute. When many of his peers enlisted in the army when the United States entered World War II, he decided to volunteer for the Navy's pilot course. However, he was found medically unfit for military service due to a large burn on his arm, even though he was burned when he was only three years old, and the burn did not prevent him from being an outstanding baseball player.

One successful course during his studies changed the direction of Kraft's career. He was infected by the enthusiasm of the professor who taught aerodynamics, changed his course of study to aeronautical engineering and in 1944 was one of the first engineers in the United States with a formal academic education in the field. Shortly after, he began working at the National Aeronautics Council (NACA) - the government body responsible for research in the field of aviation. Among other things, he was involved in researching the field of supersonic flight, which was in its infancy, as well as dealing with airplanes with phenomena such as strong and sudden winds.

During his time at NACA, Kraft came into conflict with several pilots in the Navy, after examining data on a new jet aircraft, the F8U, and concluded that under certain conditions it could encounter extreme G-forces, which could endanger the pilot and the aircraft. The Navy grounded the planes, but some of the pilots were outraged by the decision, led by a major named John Glenn (Glenn) – later one of the most famous astronauts. Kraft met with Glenn and the other pilots, presented them in an orderly manner with the findings and convinced them of his righteousness. The Navy returned the aircraft to the manufacturer for a batch of improvements, and the implementation of upgrades suggested by Kraft made the F8U one of the leading fighter aircraft of the era.

fly with feet on the ground

In 1958, with the transformation of NACA into NASA, the American space agency, Kraft joined the team of engineers entering the new and unfamiliar field of planning and executing manned space flights. "Kraft was one of the original 36 members of the founding team of the space agency. Most of them took on roles that had never been done before. He understood that someone had to take care of the work on the ground, and volunteered for it," said one of NASA's senior flight supervisors, Gene Kranz, in his book Failure is Not an Option. Kranz, who was Kraft's apprentice at the control center, added, "In the beginning, he didn't impress me in terms of leadership like other managers I've had. But Kraft led and progressed step by step, and with each mission in the Mercury program new dimensions were added to his presence and style."

In fact, Kraft took it upon himself to build the manned space flight control center from the ground up. The inspectors at the center are not only responsible for the proper operation of all the components of the spacecraft during the flight itself, but also for planning the missions and writing the procedures that ultimately allow quick decisions to be made in real time. The flight inspector and the many inspectors subordinate to him - responsible for specific systems - need to be very familiar with every screw, switch or software in the spacecraft and other components of the mission, know the details of the details pertaining to a specific mission, know the working conditions of the astronauts and know how to work with them in full coordination.

Kraft led the establishment of the control center at Cape Canaveral in Florida. He designed a center where his people could receive the spacecraft's telemetry data in real time, analyze them quickly and, if necessary, guide the astronaut on how to respond to emergency situations. He was the flight supervisor for the historic missions of the Mercury program, including the flight of Alan Shepard, who in May 1961 was the first American in space, and the flight of veteran acquaintance John Glenn, who in February 1962 was the first American to orbit the Earth. At the end of the Mercury program, the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, awarded Kraft a decoration for exceptional leadership in the service of NASA.

He led the concept that the inspector is the supreme person responsible for the task and his determinations should not be contested. Craft in the control center Photo: NASA
He led the concept that the inspector is the supreme person responsible for the task and his determinations should not be contested. Craft in the control center Photo: NASA

self-employed in the field

In preparation for the Gemini program, which included spaceships for two astronauts and longer and more complex space missions, NASA moved its Manned Flight Center to Houston, Texas, and established the large and sophisticated Flight Control Center there. Kraft himself was promoted to the position of NASA's mission manager, in which he was in charge of all the flight inspectors, who now worked during a space mission in three teams that alternated shifts between them. In the first missions in the program, he also continued to work as an inspector in parallel with his managerial role, and was on duty at historic moments such as the first spacewalk of an American astronaut in the Gemini 4 mission.

As the director in charge of the control center, Kraft ensured the complete independence of the flight controllers. He did not allow any of the managers to challenge the inspector's decisions in real time during the mission, and when he was in charge of the inspectors he implemented his policy, making sure that none of the NASA managers could interfere in the work of the inspectors, and also limited himself from challenging the authority of the inspectors that he himself qualified and appointed.

"He instilled in us a sense of what is right and what is wrong. What you need to do and how good you need to be. His standards were instilled in all of us, through his personal example and through what he did with us," said senior flight inspector Glyn Lunney, who was also one of Kraft's proteges during the Gemini and Apollo eras. "These things continue to this day and the control center today is largely built in Kraft's image."

Kraft also pioneered the concept that the flight controller was the real person in charge of the mission, even more so than the astronauts on the spacecraft. The concept was already put to the test in the fourth flight of Mercury program, when astronaut Scott Carpenter (Carpenter) ignored his instructions several times. Kraft then announced that Carpenter would not fly into space again, and so he did.

The continuation of the Gemini program was the Apollo program, which opened with a heavy disaster: a fire in the spacecraft during a routine training, which claimed the lives of three astronauts. This was a particularly hard blow for Kraft - also professionally, because as one of NASA's senior managers he felt it was both his responsibility, and personally, because he was very friendly with the astronauts who perished, especially the mission commander, Gus Grissom, and was a pallbearer at the funerals of two of them.

lost a close friend Kraft (right) with astronaut Gus Grissom, who was later killed in the Apollo 1 fire | Photo: NASA
lost a close friend Kraft (right) with astronaut Gus Grissom, who was later killed in the Apollo 1 fire | Photo: NASA

supervisor from above

When the flights of the Apollo program began, Craft was already less involved in the work of the inspectors, and a senior partner in determining NASA's policy regarding the manned flights. After the first successful flight in the program, Apollo 7, in which the function of the command and service vehicle was tested in orbit around the Earth, it was time to attach the lunar landing vehicle to it, and test the function of both (also mission Apollo 7 was accompanied by many frictions between the astronauts and the control center, and none of its three crew members flew into space again). Since the lander was not ready at the end of 1968, NASA decided to take a risk and send only the command and service vehicle for the first manned flight in history around the moon. launch of Apollo 8 The historic mission was a major step on the way to the success of Apollo 11 less than a year later, and Kraft himself later said that it was one of the bravest and most important decisions in the entire space program.

In the midst of the Apollo program, Kraft was promoted to the position of director of the Space Agency's Manned Flight Center (MSC). In this capacity, he led the establishment and operation of the only American space station, Skylab, as well as the completion of the development of the space shuttle, the construction of the shuttles and their first flights.

In 1982 he retired. He continued to work as a consultant with several commercial companies, including in the field of space. In 2001 he published an autobiographical book summarizing his groundbreaking work at NASA's control center. Over the years he has been awarded many awards and honors, and in 2016 he was inducted into the American Aviation Hall of Fame. During his lifetime, the elementary school he attended was named after him, as well as one of the buildings at NASA's Manned Flight Center in Houston.

"Scientists say there is no life on the moon. I look at the moon today and see the faces of the people of NASA, industry, science and academia whose wisdom sent Americans to the moon, and I know there is life there," Kraft wrote in his autobiography. "I was part of the large group, and then of its leadership, that opened the flights to space for humanity [...] I was there in the best time."

A short NASA video about Chris Craft and his work:

More of the topic in Hayadan:

For science updates from the Davidson Institute website on the Telegram channel או At watsap

Leave a Reply

Email will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismat to prevent spam messages. Click here to learn how your response data is processed.