Chris Kraft scared the hell out of me — in all the right ways, yes, but still. During the Apollo program, Kraft, who died at age 96 on July 22, was NASA’s Director of Flight Operations, and later ran the Johnson Space Center in Houston. I first met him in the early 1990s, when I was writing Apollo 13, and I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. I’d heard he was blunt, profane and brilliant and did not suffer fools easily. What I actually found was that he was, well, blunt, profane and brilliant and did not suffer fools easily.
During the course of our conversation, he described someone he had once worked with at NASA as “a dumbass.” I asked him what he meant specifically by that term. He looked at me wonderingly and said, “I mean stupid! Not intelligent!”
He told me about how he had grounded Scott Carpenter, one of the Original Seven astronauts, after a single flight because he overshot his splashdown target by 250 miles, forcing the Navy to go looking for him — a mistake Kraft attributed to Carpenter’s fooling around with sightseeing and scientific observations when he should have been focused on reentry procedures. He told me too about grounding the entire Apollo 7 crew for general insubordination and indiscipline during their 11-day Earth-orbital mission. When one of the astronauts, who would surely have punched his ticket for a later trip to the moon if Apollo 7 had gone well, asked Kraft if it was really true, that he was really finished, Kraft answered, “You heard it from the horse’s mouth.” If he took pity on the busted spacemen, he didn’t show it.
But pitilessness was what space travel demanded, and still demands today. There is too much that can kill you — too much that seems almost to be trying to kill you — to give in to sentiment. Kraft understood that intuitively. A graduate of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, he went to work first for NACA, the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, in Hampton, Virginia, becoming one of what the locals referred to as the “Brainbusters,” the distracted-looking young geniuses who always seemed as if their minds were on much bigger things.
Or not always so big. Kraft liked to tell the story about the house he and his wife built in Hampton, after he had put enough money away from …read more
Source:: Time – Science