Chris Kraft, left, and Robert Gilruth monitor the launch of Apollo 5 in 1968. [credit:
Christopher Columbus Kraft Jr.—one of NASA’s founding engineers, its first flight director, and a key architect of the Apollo and space shuttle programs—has died at the age of 95.
Back during the earliest days of NASA, the head of the agency’s Space Task Group, Robert Gilruth, assigned Kraft the job of drawing up rules and procedures for safely managing the flight of a human into space, through the great blackness, and back to the ground. Kraft was to do all of this without the aid of a calculator or sophisticated computer and without any reference material. And he had to hurry, because the Soviet Union had already taken a big lead in the Space Race.
Over time, the work Kraft did in writing those rules, as well as hiring a talented team of flight directors and controllers, helped NASA fly the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. Kraft became, in the words of astronaut Neil Armstrong, the “control” in Mission Control. Today, NASA’s Mission Control in Houston bears his name—the Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center.