To Space: Kranz

Gene Kranz might be the most important person to work at NASA who wasn’t an astronaut. Remember Ed Harris in Apollo 13? That character is based on Kranz though he writes that he never said, ‘Houston, we have a problem’.

Kranz was at NASA early. He worked on the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions. Without procedures for what to do, he wrote down what they were doing. “Since there were no books written on the actual methodology of space flight, we had to write them as we went along.”

Those books became the canon for the rockets and the men who rode them. This worked, this didn’t, don’t forget.

Without knowing what would happen in these new situations they practiced a lot. For Mercury Redstone’s 16 minute flight they rehearsed for 3 days.

In another case, for a Gemini simulation, Kranz arrived ready to be the lead flight controller only to be told to sit quietly in the back. Why? They were simulating what to do if he was hospitalized because of an automobile accident on the way to mission control.

All the practice was to get the engineers at mission control to have the sense of being ahead of the airplane. “Having the experience to anticipate what could happen rather than just reacting to what was happening at the moment.”

Kranz and his team would go on to pioneer a lot of great work at NASA. They even built cardboard replicas of cockpits so that if they had to tell the astronauts where to reach if they couldn’t see they could, because they’d sat there and done it themselves.

About all the training Kranz wrote, “All of us learned to say ‘I don’t know.’”