Chris Kraft is the person who conceived NASA’s Mission Control. He passed away on July 22, 2019, at the age of ninety-five. He was the first flight director of NASA and oversaw manned space missions from Mercury to the early Space Shuttle launched. He is also known for developing a lot of the basic procedures and organizations that are still used today.
Christopher Columbus Kraft, Junior, was born in Phoebus, Virginia on February 28, 1924. He was enrolled in Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI, now known as Virginia Tech) in 1941 and studied mechanical engineering. He tried his luck at joining the US Navy during WWII but was deemed as unfit for military service owing to a childhood injury. He ended up taking a degree in aeronautical engineering in 1944.
Chris Kraft worked on the staff of the Flight Research Division at Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory and ended up joining the NASA Space Task Group in November 1958 as flight director. However, with the emergence of the manned spaceflight program, it became crystal clear that the required technologies were just beginning to get developed, and so were the organization and procedures that were needed for their operation.
Chris Kraft took on the big task of coming up with NASA flight plans, timelines, procedures, mission rules, spacecraft tracking, go/no-go decisions, telemetry, ground support, contingency management, global telecommunications, and recovery. However, the greatest achievement of Chris Kraft was creating Mission Control. An aircraft requires almost little to none ground control; a manned spaceflight needs a huge group of engineers, mission directors, flight surgeons, launch directors, and safety officers that have to work closely to make quick decisions. The outcome is a large room that features huge projection screens and is filled with specialists who are using smaller screens and conversing with one another using headsets.
By the time that Apollo landings took place, Chris Kraft had become the Director of Flight Operations at the Manned Spacecraft Center. He was in charge of the manned spaceflight mission planning, training, and execution and eventually became the Deputy Director of the Center and then Director. He retired in 1982 from his post.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement, ‘America has truly lost a national treasure today with the passing of one of NASA’s earliest pioneers – flight director Chris Kraft. We send our deepest condolences to the Kraft family. Chris was one of the core team members that helped our nation put humans in space and on the Moon, and his legacy is immeasurable. Chris’ engineering talents were put to work for our nation at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics before NASA even existed, but it was his legendary work to establish Mission Control as we know it for the earliest crewed space flights that perhaps most strongly advanced our journey of discovery. From that home base, America’s achievements in space were heard across the globe, and our astronauts in space were anchored to home even as they accomplished unprecedented feats.’