February 28, 1924 - July 22, 2019
Father of NASA Mission Control
Legendary Flight Director Director of Flight Operations
Director of Johnson Space Center
Just two days after the nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s landing on the Moon, legendary NASA Flight Director Chris Kraft left the planet on July 22, 2019, at the ripe old age of 95.
Aeronautical Engineer Kraft joined the space effort early on, before America’s new space agency had even been named NASA. Fiercely competent and confident, he became known as “the father of Mission Control” as he played a key role in the planning and implementation of human spaceflight. Kraft guided all six of the original Mercury missions, including the mission that saw America’s first astronaut, New Hampshire’s own Alan Shepard, take to space on May 5, 1961.
“Get back in,” he told Gemini 4 Astronaut Ed White, as White blissfully played in the vacuum of space during the first spacewalk. “This is the saddest day of my life,’ White pouted as he headed back inside the spacecraft. To the American public, the astronauts were rock stars. But with Chris Kraft at the helm of Mission Control, there was never much doubt about who was in charge.
Devastated by the loss of the Apollo 1 crew at the launchpad in 1967, Kraft insisted on major changes to the safety features of the Apollo capsules. He accelerated the timing of the first flight to reach and orbit the Moon, Apollo 8, just a year after the devastating Apollo 1 fire. He effectively trained his flight control successors and cheered them on as he stepped into the role of director of flight operations for the Apollo 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 missions, and provided the team technical support and the confidence they needed to guide the crew of Apollo 13 back home safely after their mid-flight explosion.
Christopher Kraft became director of the Johnson Space Center in 1972. In his decade at the helm, he oversaw the remaining Apollo Missions and the missions of America’s first space station, Skylab, the first space collaboration with the Soviets (the docking of the Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft) and the initial flights in the Space Shuttle program.
In 2011, in recognition of his key role in shaping its human spaceflight program, NASA named the historic mission control building at Johnson Space Center the Christopher C. Kraft, Jr. Mission Control Center.
Kraft leaves a legacy of excellence in his wake. The Board, Staff and Volunteers of the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center recognize the major positive impact Chis Kraft has had on the world, and extend our sincere condolences to his family.
Jeanne T. Gerulskis, Executive Director