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Eugene Francis "Gene" Kranz (born August 17, 1933) is a retired NASAmarker Flight Director and manager. Kranz served as a Flight Director, the successor to NASA founding Flight Director Chris Kraft, during the Gemini and Apollo programs, and is best known for his role in directing the successful Mission Control team efforts to save the crew of Apollo 13, which later became the subject story of a major motion picture of the same name. He is also noted for his trademark close-cut flattop hairstyle, and the wearing of dapper white "mission" vests (waistcoats), of different styles and materials made by Mrs. Kranz, during missions for which he acted as Flight Director. A personal friend to the American astronauts of his time, Kranz remains a prominent and colorful figure in the history of U.S. manned space exploration, literally, the embodiment of 'NASA tough-and-competent' of the Kranz Dictum. Kranz has been the subject of movies, documentary films, and books and periodical articles. Kranz is the recipient of a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Early years

Kranz was born in Toledo, Ohiomarker and attended Central Catholic High Schoolmarker. He grew up on a farm that overlooked the Willys-Overland Jeep production plant. His father, Leo Peter Kranz, was the son of a German immigrant, and served as an Army medic during World War I. His father died in 1940, when Eugene F. was only seven years old. Kranz has two older sisters, Louise and Helen.

His early fascination with flight was apparent in the topic of his high school thesis, entitled "The Design and Possibilities of the Interplanetary Rocket." Kranz graduated from Parks College of Saint Louis Universitymarker in 1954, and received his commission as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, completing pilot training at Lackland Air Force Basemarker in Texasmarker in 1955. Shortly after receiving his wings, Kranz married Marta Cadena, a daughter of Mexicanmarker immigrants who fled from Mexico during the Mexican Revolution. Kranz was sent to South Koreamarker to fly the F-86 Sabre aircraft for patrol operations around the Korean DMZ.

After finishing his tour in Korea, Kranz left the Air Force and went to work for McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, where he assisted with the research and testing of new Surface-to-Air and Air-to-Ground missiles for the U.S. Air Force at its Research Center at Holloman Air Force Basemarker.

NASA career

After completing the research tests at Holloman Air Force Base, Kranz left McDonnell-Douglas and joined the NASA Space Task Group, then at its Langley Research Centermarker in Virginiamarker. Upon joining NASA, he was assigned, by flight director Christopher C. Kraft, as a Mission Control procedures officer for the unmanned MR-1 test (dubbed in Kranz's autobiography as the "Four-Inch Flight", due to its failure to launch).

As Procedures Officer, Kranz was put in charge of integrating Mercury Control with the Launch Control Team at Cape Canaveral, Floridamarker, writing up the "Go/NoGo" procedures that allowed missions to continue as planned or be aborted, along with serving as a sort of switchboard operator between the control center at Cape Canaveral and the agency's fourteen tracking stations and two tracking ships (via Teletype) located across the globe. Kranz performed this role for all unmanned and manned Mercury flights, including the trailblazing MR-3 and MA-6 flights, which put the first Americans into space and orbit respectively.

After MA-6, he was promoted to Assistant Flight Director to Flight Director Kraft for the MA-7 flight of astronaut Scott Carpenter in October, 1962. He continued in this role for the remaining two Mercury flights and the first three Gemini flights. With the upcoming Gemini flights, he was promoted to the Flight Director level and served his first shift, the so-called "operations shift," for the Gemini 4 mission in 1965, the first U.S. EVA and four-day flight. After Gemini, he served as a Flight Director on odd-numbered Apollo missions, including Apollos 7 and 9. He was the Flight Director for Apollo 11, during the moment when the Lunar Module Eagle landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969.

Kranz is perhaps best known for his role as lead Flight Director during the Apollo 13 space mission. Kranz's team was on duty when the Apollo 13 Service Module exploded, and they dealt with the initial hours of the unfolding accident. His "White Team", dubbed the "Tiger Team" by the press, set the constraints for the consumption of spacecraft consumables (oxygen, electricity and water), controlled the three course-correction burns during the trans-Earth trajectory, as well as the power-up procedures that allowed the astronauts to use the Command Module for the trip home. He, his team, as well as the astronauts received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for their heroic roles.

Kranz would continue as a Flight Director through Apollo 17, the end of the Apollo missions, and then was promoted to Deputy Director of NASA Mission Operations in 1974, becoming Director in 1983. He retired from NASA in 1994 after the successful STS-61 flight that repaired the optically flawed Hubble Space Telescope in 1993. In addition to having written Failure Is Not An Option, which was adapted for cable TV for The History Channel in 2004, he also flies an aerobatic aircraft and serves as a flight engineer for a restored B-17 Flying Fortress. He and his wife Marta, along with their six children (one boy and five girls) and several grandchildren, still reside in Texas.


Kranz, a Catholic, has six children with his wife, Marta: Carmen (born 1958), Lucy (1959), Joan Frances (1961), Mark (1963), Brigid (1964), and Jean Marie (1966).

Jean Marie is currently married to Theodore Kowal.

Kranz on film

Ed Harris played Kranz in the 1995 film, Apollo 13, and received an Oscar Nomination for Best Performance By An Actor In A Supporting Role.

Dan Butler, a character actor better known for his portrayal of "Bulldog" Briscoe on the sit-com Frasier, portrayed Kranz in the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.

Matt Frewer, perhaps best known as Max Headroom, portrayed Kranz in the 1996 TV movie Apollo 11.

Gene Kranz has also been the subject of several documentaries based upon NASA film archives; the noteworthy ones being the 2004 Failure Is Not An Option narrated by actor Scott Glenn, co-star of the film The Right Stuff, in recurring broadcasts by the History Channel based on the best-selling book by Gene Kranz, and the 2008 Discovery Channel When We Left Earth narrated by actor Gary Sinise, co-star of the film Apollo 13. He is also prominently featured in the History Channel’s 2005 Beyond the Moon: Failure Is Not an Option 2, also narrated by Scott Glenn.

Kranz in fiction

In Shane Johnson's novel Ice, Kranz is still the leader of White Team during the fictional missions Apollo 19 and Apollo 20. In one poignant scene, Kranz rips off his trademark vest and flings it to the floor of Mission Control after one man, instead of three, is recovered from the Apollo 19 splashdown.

Teams, "the human factor" and "the right stuff"

Kranz was the leader of the "white team", a shift at mission control that contributed to saving the Apollo 13 astronauts. Though Apollo 13 did not achieve its main objective, to Kranz its astronauts' rescue is an example of the "human factor" born out of the 1960s space race. According to Kranz, this factor is what is largely responsible for helping put America on the moon in only a decade. The blend of young intelligent minds working day in and day out by sheer willpower yielded "the right stuff."

Gene Kranz had this to say about the "human factor":

According to him, a few organized examples of this factor included Grumman, who developed the Apollo Lunar Module, North American Aviation, and the Lockheed Corporation. After the excitement of the 1960s, these companies dissolved into corporate mergings, such as happened when Lockheed became Lockheed Martin. Another example of the "human factor" was the ingenuity and hard work by teams during Apollo 13 that developed the emergency plans and sequences as new problems arose during the mission.
Gene Kranz, uncharacteristically wearing a dark vest (probably during a training drill) (NASA picture)

Response to Apollo I launch pad fire -- The Kranz Dictum

Kranz called a meeting of his branch and flight control team on the Monday morning following the Apollo 1 disaster that killed Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. Kranz made the following address to the gathering (The Kranz Dictum), in which his expression of values and admonishments for future spaceflight are his legacy to NASA:

After the Space Shuttle Columbia accident in 2003, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe quoted this speech in a discussion about what changes should be made in response to the disaster. Referring to the words "tough and competent," he said, "These words are the price of admission to the ranks of NASA and we should adopt it that way."

Feelings about life after the moon

Kranz felt that much of the "human factor" unfortunately dried up after the moon landings, particularly due to the nation seeing the moon landings as a short-term goal against the Russians — and not much more. When asked in spring 2000 if NASAmarker is still the same place today compared to the years of the space race, he replied:

However, in his book Failure Is Not an Option, he also expressed disappointment that support for space exploration dried up after the Apollo program—indeed, the last three Apollo flights were cancelled. His vision for renewing the space program includes:


  • He developed color-coded handbooks for his personal use as instant reference guides for the many technical problems that could develop during a mission. He feared that he would misplace one or more of these handbooks, so he used pictures from the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition as book covers. The other controllers knew about this, so if a book went missing, the eye-catching cover would ensure its prompt return to Kranz.

  • Kranz is very good friends with Gemini and Apollo astronaut Eugene Cernan. Kranz and Cernan attended the same Roman Catholic parish. Throughout pre-flight scheduling, Kranz served his first time as lead flight director for Cernan's first space mission Gemini 9A, with Kranz serving his last shift as flight director during Cernan's last moon walk on Apollo 17. The two men referred to each other as "Geno."

  • In addition to serving as the flight director that landed the Eagle onto the surface of the Moon in 1969, Kranz served as the flight director that oversaw the liftoff of the lunar module Challenger in 1972. That shift would be his last shift as a flight director.

  • During the Apollo 13 mission, Kranz never actually used the phrase "Failure is not an option," which was created for the Ron Howard movie Apollo 13. However, he so liked the way the line reflected the attitude of mission control, that he used it as the title of his 2000 autobiography.

  • Kranz' white Flight Director vests—In the movie Apollo 13, Kranz (played by actor Ed Harris) is shown unwrapping a package from his wife delivered to Mission Control during pre-launch. The package contains a white vest with the Apollo 13 mission patch sewn by his wife, Marta Kranz, which, to applause and the shout "Hey Gene, I guess we can go now!", he dons and wears it for the duration of the mission. NASA documentary films of the Apollo missions also depict Kranz in Mission Control wearing his Flight Director white vests with the various mission patches. This was Kranz family Apollo mission 'gung ho' standard operating procedure. These Kranz family Apollo mission Flight Director vests remain popular and significant artifacts of U.S. manned space exploration.

  • In the 2008 Discovery Channel Mini Series When We Left Earth Gene Kranz appears throughout the series with his customary flattop haircut and wearing his white vest from the Apollo 13 mission (mission patch plainly visible), a clue as to the mission for which Kranz has the greatest pride as the NASA MSC Flight Director ("Crew safety is the first priority." --Kranz).


  • Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond by Gene Kranz (ISBN 0-7432-0079-9)
  • Lost Moon by James Lovell (ISBN 0-671-53464-5)
  • The Last Man on the Moon: Astronaut Eugene Cernan and America's Race in Space by Gene Cernan (ISBN 0-312-19906-6)
  • Thirteen: The Apollo Flight That Failed by Henry S.F. Cooper, Jr. (ISBN 0-8018-5097-5)

External links

  • Eugene F. KRANZ long interview conducted by Rebecca Wright et al. of the Johnson Space Center Oral History Project,, January 8, 1999
  • [48869] Op-Ed written by Kranz for The Hill. 12 June, 2007.
  • Gene Kranz Biography

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