Episode 023 – Gene Kranz: Former NASA Flight Director for Apollo 11 & Apollo 13


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0907_KRANZEugene “Gene” Kranz is a trailblazer, an engineer, a best-selling author and an inspiration.

The Toledo native and 1951 graduate of Central Catholic High School is perhaps best known for his determination in the face of potential tragedy during the Apollo 13 space mission. The immortal words that characterized the crucial mission on the ground – “Failure is not an option” – are attributed to Kranz.

Kranz’ love of country and exploration was forged after his mother opened her home to boarders, many of whom were young men in the United States Armed Forces. His fascination with flight led him to Parks College of Saint Louis University, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering in 1954.

Commissioned in the U.S. Air Force later that year, he became a pilot of high performance aircraft and served as a flight test engineer at Holloman Air Force Base. His response to an advertisement for engineers in Aviation Weekly was the impetus for his journey into history.

Kranz’ involvement in Project Mercury and Project Gemini gave him a central position in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s pioneering space exploration program. In 1962, he became branch chief for Flight Control Operations and assumed flight director duties for all Project Gemini missions. His job: “Train, plan and provide the remote site teams and systems engineers and procedures personnel for Mission Control.”

Kranz’ steady, stoic demeanor became his trademark. Those in Mission Control when Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon during Apollo 11 recall that Kranz allowed 15 seconds of celebration, then ordered all personnel back to their stations, lest an emergency befall the spacecraft. His remarkable leadership during the successful retrieval of the Apollo 13 crew has been documented in several mediums, including the feature film “Apollo 13,” Kranz’ book, Failure is Not an Option, a New York Times bestseller published in 2002, and a cable miniseries, “From the Earth to the Moon,” among others.

Before retiring from NASA with 37 years of federal service, Kranz was responsible for more than 6,000 employees and an annual budget of approximately $750 million.

Now a motivational speaker who still uses his pilot’s wings, Kranz is the recipient of several prestigious awards: co-honoree, Presidential Medal of Freedom; distinguished member, Senior Executive Service; AIAA Lawrence Sperry Award; AAS Spaceflight Award; Gilruth Award, and FNASA Foundation’s Rotary National Award for Space Achievement’s National Space Trophy, to name a few.

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