NOVA; To the Moon; Interview with Gene Kranz, NASA Flight Director, part 2 of 5
So tell me about that when you took over from the man you call teacher. There was no debt. Chris was the master of the business. He was a pioneer and I think it's probably incredible that his parents named him Christopher Columbus at birth because I believe it's that kind of a piring, pioneering nature. That led him to assume leadership in the space task group and become the boss and mission control. He was a teacher, the mentor, the tutor, the disciplinary and he was everything to us. And he recognized the need to bring on another generation of people. So basically he cloned us with our own unique capabilities but he basically cloned us with the common genetic code that was unique to craft. It was accept risk, accept accountability and never turn back, never look back, keep moving forward.
So craft was instrumental in developing the flight director and the flight director's code and the thing I remember most about Chris. Again as a leader I had already flown the Gemini 4 mission. Gemini 5 mission wasn't a piece of cake right off the bat. We were having our first experience with cryogenics and as soon as we got on orbit our cryogenic pressures tumbled that looked like our fuel cells wouldn't keep operating. We were coming up on a gonogote, extend the mission narration, craft decided that yes we're going to press on and if we for some reason other don't have enough battery power to go around to the next primary landing area. So be it. But basically we've paid for the risk. We got to pay for the risk associated with launch. When I was sitting next to him at the console I was following his shift and came time for shift hand over and I looked in the log, there were no instructions and craft took off his headset, put it in the drawer and I said Chris what do you want me to do? And he looks at me and he says hey you're the flight director, it's your shift, make
up your own mind. So here I had the spacecraft, the power systems were crumped, we had deployed a satellite and he just picks up and walks off. And I think that's essential in the business that we're in in mission control. There's some point where it's sort of like flying an airplane, you have to solo, you have to go out on your own, you got to try your own wings. And that was craft's way of kicking, not only myself out of the nest but basically did it with every controller. What a wonderful story, what a wonderful story just for. Okay. He had you, we had made a very quick transition, Chris came off after Gemini 76 to get prepared for Apollo 1, John Hodg came off after Gemini 8, I had finished Gemini 9, so the three of us were going to be the flight directors for the Apollo 1 mission. When we, when I came off of the mission, I was really surprised that we were as well
down preparation cyclists we should have. We worked as really knowledgeable of the spacecraft as we should have been at this stage. But again, this was a new contractor, a new spacecraft, it was like starting over and we'd face these kinds of problems before. We went through crash courses on the spacecraft and the Saturn launch vehicle, etc. And we were in the process of coming up to speed and we were about one month from launch at the time that we went in January for the just a routine test with the spacecraft. I was working in mission control, John Hodg had the conduct of the test, the T0, but I had all of the communications, the data set up, so I came in early in the morning and I think it was January 27th, 27th. And made sure mission control was ready, updated all of the countdown procedures for the plugs out test.
We had had communications problems the day before and I talked with the pad teams in there as to whether we had sorted this out. I talked to my people in the control center and we had a troubleshooting team in place in mission control so we could troubleshoot our part of it if they re-occured again. At the same time in the previous days test we had had numerous deviations in our test procedures and we thought we had that pretty well sorted out. The life support problems didn't seem they quite had a handle on. But we continued through the testing and at about noon time I had it over to John Hodg who was the flight director who was going to carry the test through the T0. I went back to my office in adjacent building and basically cleaned up all of the loose ends because it launched minus one month, you got a lot of loose ends to cover. And after I had finished that we have six children. I had promised my wife that I was going to take her out to dinner that evening and went home and I was in the process of dressing to go out when my next door neighbor came over
and he is one of the mission controllers and knocked on the door and I thought this was the babysitter showing up early. And as I knocked on the door Jim Hannigan came in and he says if you heard what happened and I was completely taken by surprise what happened he says you know they had a fire on the pad they think the crew is dead. And we immediately went over to turn on the TV and all the TV was doing was reporting that there had been some accident. The TV didn't even have as many details as Hannigan had gotten from one of his controllers. So I dressed very quickly put on the clothes came into mission control here and all the doors were locked it was even with the badge you couldn't get back upstairs because Hodg had secured access he didn't want a whole bunch of people coming in here compromising the integrity of the data. So I went around to the freight elevator in the back of the control center here and bluffed the guard into letting me upstairs came into the room and that was obvious that these people had witnessed a horrible event.
And every one of the controllers now here we've got a key element of the chemistry in mission control in the space task group. The majority of the leaders in mission control flight directors and above had been associated with flight tests so we were very aware of the risks and we know that sometimes you lose a crew that's the nature of the beast where the majority of the controllers that we had working for us were young kids fresh out of college because older people didn't want a risk their career so it was the young people who provided the technical base for our business. And these kids had never witnessed a catastrophe they had never seen or heard someone die. So it was very tough so it was really a question of trying to give these people a sense of hey this is our business now do you understand why we must be absolutely perfect and everything we do. The reports kept coming in it was it was obvious there was there was nothing that we
could do further so in the process of trying to close down mission control for the evening we secured all of our data records and most of the controllers went over we have a watering hole to the singing we are the red barn we went over and it was again just the shock trying to get through the shock and the owner actually moved all none he was very familiar with the controllers and the controllers psyche and he moved all of the patrons out who are not part of the control team so this is the first process of going through and the catharsis we needed to work through this next day we came in to work and it wasn't any better there was no more answers there were no answers to be found so Monday John Hodg and myself got together and decided we were going to brief our flight control teams we had to say something we had to update them and what the status was now in my office both John and I had come
out of aircraft flight test and always thinking about flight test I had a little poster up there that basically said aviation unlike to see is terribly unforgiving of carelessness in capacity and neglect and this theme kept driving through my mind and as we were getting ready to talk to my my group so John had the initial session we sort updated where we were going with the accident but I tend to be a more emotional more direct I want to pound things home and in particular I wanted to make sure this never happened again so I gave what became known as my tough and competent speech where I started off discussing the nature of flight test and the fact that this business requires absolute perfection and everything that we do and that somewhere somewhere along the line one of us must have missed something and therefore we let our crew down and then I went into the what I called my tough
and competent speech I said from now on we're going to be known by two characteristics and mission control is going to be tough and competent tough meanings we will never again we are accountable for everything that we do or what we fail to do and the Apollo one fire was a failure to intervene when we knew the countdown and the test in the spacecraft and we weren't ready we should have done something about competent will never stop learning from now on we will be perfect and every controller wrote those words in his blackboard when they went back to the offices that day and those words remained in that blackboard through the Apollo program perfect great I think you need new math. How important was it to getting us to the moon on time? I believe Apollo 8 was one of the
gutsyest decisions ever made in the space program there are many origins and how it started but I think it was one of the characteristics of the very top level leadership we had that they recognized a need to start resolving many of the issues associated with the program and the Apollo 7 mission we had several things we had to demonstrate we had to demonstrate that a command module came in a command and service module would work lunar module would work we had to demonstrate our ability to navigate in the vicinity of the moon we had to have some kind of a dress rehearsal where we put all of these pieces together for the first time and made sure it would work one of the largest uncertainties we had is we were moving into the man phase of the program was is the ground capable of tracking the spacecraft very precisely in the vicinity of the moon and if we delayed it to a downstream mission we'd be testing not only our ability to navigate we'd be putting the crew possibly in harm's way so we
elected on what would be a relatively simple mission command and service module only to demonstrate this navigation capability but it did more than that it really demonstrated the ability of the ground to compute the maneuvers the s4b to get the job done and in particular it demonstrated our ability to leave the earth's atmosphere in the earth's environment for the first time there was no no doubt that going to the moon and the second man mission was Dicea calls they ever made and I think this was probably one of the the greatest missions my people in the trench in the trajectory area ever float they considered this the greatest of the jobs that they had done you know at the time that we went to the moon that day we had never the computing capability in mission control had just been put together literally weeks earlier we had never demonstrated all of the pieces bolted in to end in a simulation or a training exercise we always did these and what
we would consider a part-task man we'd do a training exercise associated with computing and exercising the injection out to the moon and then we'd do midcourse corrections and then we would do the lunar orbit insertion and then the trans earth injection but we would do all of these on a standalone basis we'd never bolt them in and make sure all the piece parts fit it's sort of like building an automobile for the first time and saying boy the first one off the production line is going to be the finest model that ever came out but this is the first time we were bolted the mission together in the lunar sense and it worked like a champ engineering-wise it was a great accomplishment was there any emotional moment how about that when they oh I don't think there was I was I was fortunate I was probably the most fortunate person in mission control because I wasn't working the mission we had Cliff Gerald's worth had picked this mission up and I was absolutely mesmerized by what was going on I mean sitting next to him in mission control throughout the maneuvers all of a sudden you find out that I caught the crew has
left the the earth's environment okay it's now on a way to another planet for the first time it's the holy cow this is something and then the thing that really came down and grabbed me was the crew would describe uh the surfaces they saw it they would describe the backside and then they started naming surface features for uh the people they thought got them there the gurus and the crafts and you know then they named other portions for astronauts and the pioneers who had died and the weight of the man you sit there and say my god I'm glad I'm I'm a spectator at this thing as opposed to having to do something because I got so involved in what the crew is saying and then when they read from the book of Genesis I cried that's all there was to it I mean this this was there was no question uh there's a lot of times in my life when I've been brought to tears by just the power of the immensity the beauty of what we what we were doing and this was one of those days okay look at lunar geologists so were they a welcome addition to the to the team I think
there were a spectacular addition to the team uh we found these folks uh very compatible with the controllers to a great extent their extroverts they actually are an absolute love of the work that they're doing they feel it's the most important job on earth we feel the same thing about our part of the job and I believe that we developed a relationship very quickly the the problems that started to develop however is that the geologists couldn't agree within themselves and they decided or the NASA decided they need some kind of a brokering well this started bothering me in mission control and I think it bothered every one of the people on my science teams at the time my job in mission control was to bring operations to the scientist to acquaint them with what we needed to allow us to do the job in the best possible fashion for them so I don't care whether it's a spacecraft or a science objective or working with the program office my job is to
represent the customer and provide a satisfied customer uh so we got concerned that we started seeing middlemen between ourselves and the very science groups that came in and uh we continued to to fight uh this brokering but at the same time being real us we knew that as soon as we got down on the surface each one of the guys would uh demand the most for their particular area science so so we knew some brokering had to had to be a company so the principal concerns that we had were associated with let's make sure we got effective brokering but let's make sure that the person who was who was in charge of the science is allowed to voice what needs be done uh a couple of things I found absolutely naïve uh we had been camping and the thing I always found ludicrous uh if you go camping and you're in the middle of the mountains it's hard to figure out where you are just from describing the mountain tops and we knew as soon as we got down in the surface uh first thing the
crew did was describe where they had landed and I knew I think every controller knew that the scientists would listen to this and they'd say where are we and then they'd immediately get into this very intensity bait so so the relationship I think was very good very harmonious there were concerns at the beginning about this brokering but it was just a process of training training training work out the bugs and then we're going to get the job done um during the uh during the emissions when they were actually on the moon we'll we'll we'll skip ahead but we're there a little bit now so but they had a bunch of geologists in the back room the famous back room and they how come you how comes it got relegated to the back room well the uh key thing is and let's answer your first question first how the scientists got relegated to the back room it is a relatively large group of people I'd say there were 20 to 30 uh working at any one time if you take a look at the mission control team here uh we range between about 14 and 20 ourselves uh the
control team has to continue looking after the spacecraft that's in orbit around the moon or has to take a look at the spacecraft that is on the surface of the moon has to keep operating all of her facilities the fact is flight director's got a pretty good sized job here so what he needed to do is to have someone representing uh the scientists just like the the controllers in this room represent a spacecraft we had to set up a very crisp very efficient very pragmatic interface so the the establishment of this team in the back room just made a lot of sense to us by the way I had a team in the back room also who uh provided this brokering but also accomplished the support to the scientific packages that these uh uh crewmen left behind uh on the surface of the moon so basically my back room people were interleaved with the scientists themselves and this this we find out is is absolutely the best way to go a fact is our objectives were their objectives and our job was to
make sure that uh their objectives got satisfied that's that's what this whole business was about it was a great engineering feat but that wasn't enough it had to be more it had to be something that accomplished the objectives and the objectives were scientific and nature as the program moved on and go perfect one more question real quick great yep um in this room that's okay didn't know right in this room uh what was the effect of how many hours did you guys work were here and what happened i mean the whole human drama's got played out in this room i mean you saw all of it describe the effect of the people how dedicated they were and what it did to lives well the controllers the uh the nature of mission control as it emerged from mercury through Gemini and into the early Apollo was really one of an incredibly and intensely dedicated team of very young people my controllers at the time of the first lunar landing our average age
was 26 i was 35 i was the old man in this room essentially uh the controllers had come up they had developed a set of values that are expressed by simple words discipline morale toughness competence commitment teamwork and it was these characteristics that built the chemistry that are going to keep us together both in good times and in bad times and especially in bad times they the room the hours that we worked were incredible i think i don't think anyone ever worked anything less than 10 to 12 each day saturday was a normal day of work in fact it was that's the way we felt it should be we were given this impossible dream by president kennedy and we were living it we were doing the kinds of things that engineers would kill for and as part of this process uh nobody yeah we'd go and open up our we're surprised we were getting paid by this thing here as long as we had enough money
to make things meet that's all we needed the job was our life and we lived this literally every day and uh this room has a marvellous leadership laboratory and i would say it's a leadership laboratory the first order if you can survive the first few
- To the Moon
- Producing Organization
- WGBH Educational Foundation
- Contributing Organization
- WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
- AAPB ID
- Program Description
- This remarkably crafted program covers the full range of participants in the Apollo project, from the scientists and engineers who promoted bold ideas about the nature of the Moon and how to get there, to the young geologists who chose the landing sites and helped train the crews, to the astronauts who actually went - not once or twice, but six times, each to a more demanding and interesting location on the Moon's surface. "To The Moon" includes unprecedented footage, rare interviews, and presents a magnificent overview of the history of man and the Moon. To the Moon aired as NOVA episode 2610 in 1999.
- Raw Footage Description
- Gene Kranz, former NASA Flight Director, is interviewed about the Apollo program in its early years. Kranz describes the difficulties of taking over flight control from Christopher Kraft, and talks about the ground perspective before the Apollo 1 fire. Kranz talks about his experience of the fire and the difficulty of the fire on the flight controllers, and explains his famous "Tough and Competent" speech, and the "Failure is not an option" quotes that he coined. During Apollo 8, Kranz says that he cried after the Genesis reading and explains the importance of the mission and the computing power that made the mission possible. He also explains the interaction between the mission control and the scientists, who were put into a back room during missions, and talks about the relative youth of the people working in the mission control room.
- Created Date
- Asset type
- Raw Footage
- American History; Gemini; apollo; moon; Space; astronaut
- Media type
- Moving Image
Interviewee: Kranz, Eugene "Gene", 1933-
Producing Organization: WGBH Educational Foundation
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: 52054 (barcode)
Format: Digital Betacam
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- Chicago: “NOVA; To the Moon; Interview with Gene Kranz, NASA Flight Director, part 2 of 5,” 1998-00-00, WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 9, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-dj58c9sb8p.
- MLA: “NOVA; To the Moon; Interview with Gene Kranz, NASA Flight Director, part 2 of 5.” 1998-00-00. WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 9, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-dj58c9sb8p>.
- APA: NOVA; To the Moon; Interview with Gene Kranz, NASA Flight Director, part 2 of 5. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-dj58c9sb8p