Chris Kraft was NASA’s visionary first flight director, who guided astronauts as they orbited Earth and landed on the Moon.
Chris Kraft was NASA’s visionary first flight director, who guided astronauts as they orbited Earth and landed on the Moon. His roots at NASA went back to the inaugural Space Task Group, formed in 1958 to plot a course toward putting America’s first man in space, with Kraft as one of its founding engineers. Kraft went on to develop the concept of the mission control center, the crucial base of ground support for astronauts. He invented the role of flight director, in which he served for the six crewed Mercury missions. He led a team of flight directors during the years of the Gemini and Apollo programs, and in 1972, he became the director of the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, now known as the Johnson Space Center. His death comes just two days after the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing.
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Died: July 22, 2019 (Who else died on July 22?)
Details of death: Died in Houston at the age of 95.
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Accolades: Instrumental in the development of the U.S. space program, Kraft has been widely honored for his vision and achievements. NASA honored him many times with awards including the Outstanding Leadership Medal, Ambassador of Exploration Award, and four Distinguished Service Medals. He received the John J. Montgomery Award for aerospace achievement and the National Space Club’s Goddard Memorial Trophy. In 2011, NASA named its mission control center in Kraft’s honor, and he is a member of the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
Notable quote: “Scientists say there is no life on the moon. I look at the moon today, see the faces from NASA, industry, science and academe who brilliantly sent Americans to that place, and I know differently. The people of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo are blossoms on the moon. Their spirits will live there forever, I was part of the crowd, then part of leadership that opened space travel to human beings. We threw a narrow flash of light across our nation’s history. I was there at the best of times.” —From Kraft’s autobiography, “Flight: My Life in Mission Control”
What people said about him: “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.” —NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine
“Saddened by this world’s loss of Chris Kraft. Thankful for times I had opportunity to hear him share stories of how we did seemingly impossible things in space & to make it possible for people like me to safely fly in space. An exceptional man who changed the world.” —NASA astronaut Nicole Stott
“We’re saddened by the passing of Chris Kraft, our first flight director. He was a space legend who created the concept of Mission Control during the early human spaceflight program and made it an integral part of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions.” —NASA
Full obituary: Houston Chronicle
- Neil Armstrong (1930–2012), first person to walk on the Moon
- John Glenn (1921–2016), first American to orbit the Earth
- Sally Ride (1951–2012), first American woman in space
- The Women of NASA
- NASA Memorial
- 50 Years Ago: The Moon Landing (photos)