tv Life Career of Apollo Flight Director Gene Kranz CSPAN November 30, 2019 1:18pm-2:01pm EST
you are on or who is on your side. pastplore our nation's every weekend on c-span3. announcer: next on american history tv, air force veteran and former nasa flight director gene kranz discusses his life and career, culminating the with stories about apollo 11 and apollo 13. this talk marking the 50th anniversary of apollo 11 was part of the american veterans center annual conference in washington, d.c. rep. horn: it is now my pleasure -- i think he is here -- to introduce -- jared, are you still here? oh, he is behind me. i was waiting for you to come to the other side. from dallas, texas, by way of texas a&m university.
thank you. [applause] mr. holbrook: howdy. j.f.k. emphasized the importance of the space race during a time of fear in the u.s. incredible men and women took this challenge head on. nasa became a beacon of hope for the nation. i am honored to introduce one of those legends. the man who pioneered apollo 11 and apollo 13. if you have ever heard the phrase, " houston, tranquility base is here, the eagle has landed." with great honor i am here to introduce houston. mr. gene kranz. [applause]
mr. kranz: thank you. it is a real privilege. i have a couple aggies in the family. to be introduced by an aggie. they told me i had three hours to speak, so we will have to be speaking through lunch here. but jared said no, he will give me a heads up when i have five minutes. so he is going to stand up and give me sort of a heads up. when i finished. i have a three-minute video of the actual lunar landing. and i think that will put this year, this decade of the 50th anniversary in context of what is happening. i used this at the smithsonian. if you look at the smithsonian website on flight jacket night, basically i described the entire lunar landing, from the time we acquired the spacecraft until touchdown, and for roughly the first couple hours after the touchdown. so, there's a lot of details i am going to leave out in my three hours here.
but anyway, i was born in 1933. my father died. my father was a world war i veteran and he died. we lived very close to the american legion boardinghouse. and basically, she operated the boardinghouse for the soldiers, sailors, and airmen during world war ii. and basically, my two sisters and i grew up in an environment of duty, honor, and country. and this is what i think inspired us. i wanted to become a naval aviator because we lived very close to the naval training center. great lakes. and many people at our house were going to become aviators. and i got an appointment to annapolis. but unfortunately i failed the physical. so the navy's loss was the air force's gain. and i moved into the air force, went through a small aviation
college, and basically got my commission. my wings at laughlin air force base. then i went through fighter school out at dallas, learned how to fly under the aces of the korean war. i graduated, and my first initial assignment was to myrtle beach 354, which was commanded by a double ace. an ace in korea as well as in world war ii. and he was what i would say an inspirational leader. he used to travel around. he had a colored jeep, he would travel around to various locations on the base indicating his very presence. they would say he is here, he is there, all the way down the line. basically he made all of these , people part of the greek team on the 354.
with the vagaries of military orders, i got assigned to a k55 korea. well, i lost my love affair with the hun. this really established the love affair with the saber. a marvelous, marvelous fighter aircraft. we flew down on the taiwan straits. top cover during a period of time when nationalists would resupply the islands. i served as air controller with the seventh infantry. and returning to the states, i elected to go to return reserve status. and looking for the jobs that were out there, and there was an opportunity to move into flight test with the b-52 aircraft.
and i became a flight test engineer on the b-52. but it was a flying testbed. basically in the bombay, they had trapeze and all kinds of equipment in there. they could lower such things, a jd-5 jet engine, we had the quail missile in there, we did separation studies from various equipments they would install on the forward bombay. we did tough studies, we did acoustic studies. it was truly a great program and very enjoyable. it lasted about 30 months. at the completion of the program , i had the opportunity to move to edwards with the fourth or go up to general dynamics and learn about rockets. but i saw an advertisement in wasation week" that challenging. it said they are looking for qualified engineers to determine the feasibility of putting an american in space.
i thought, gee, this sounds look them -- like a pretty cool job. so i sent in an application. i did not hear from anybody until roughly about six weeks. all of a sudden i got a phone call, someone says, are you still interested in coming here? i said yes. they gave me a reporting date. i reported to langley field in virginia. and i sat around reading manuals. we had a relatively small group of people in the office. people would come in and say you are going to engineering, recovery, launch operations. nobody wanted me. until finally my life changed. a guy by the name of christopher columbus craft came in, tapped me on the shoulder, and said i want you to go down to the cape, write someuntdown, r mission rules.
and when you are through, give me a call and we will launch. i did not know anything about rockets. i didn't know anything about spacecraft. but based on my work with the b-52. it was a very interesting challenge. found out where the black house were. you found out where safety were. you got to know the command guys in the place called mercury control. so, it was a marvelous place growing up. and learning the business of spaceflight, literally from the ground up, writing the book. one of the most interesting things was the quality of leadership that we had in those days. nasa and the entire aircraft industry was just literally full of leaders. our boss in project mercury was walter c. williams. and if you have not taken a look at him, he basically established the high-speed test station out of what we call edwards air force base today. i did a lot of work and development in the big fighter
aircraft of world war ii, the p-47, p-51. basically, he was project engineer for the rocketship. he was chuck yeager's boss. he basically had the responsibility of the steering committee for all of the x-series of spacecraft. he was the toughest man i have ever known. he was a brawler. when you went into one of his meetings, he would call you -- he was very interested in mission rules because i was writing the mission rules for the program. he would go to sleep on you. you would try to make up your mind, are you going to continue or not? all of a sudden, his hand would go out and he had a big box of mints about that big. he would shake them out, then go back to sleep. but the problem was when you finished, he heard every word , and he asked the darndest
questions i have ever had in my life. the space task group was an incredible entity. i don't know if in modern-day america there is an organization capable of building in the same fashion. when they established the space task group, they gave dr. robert gilreath the responsibility to head up the organization. basically, he came from the langley research center which was the mecca of aeronautical knowledge at that time. and basically, he went in and picked in what he called the pick of the litter, the top 50 people he wanted in his organization. the center director picked another 50 people that maybe were not the pick of the litter, but they all became members of the space task group. and then the canadian government , got involved here, because the canadian government, they had the world's top-performing airplane. nothing could touch this. it was basically an interceptor.
this aircraft in 1958 had hit mach 1.9, and an aircraft with that engine was expected to break bach 2. the canadian government decided they could not afford to build that aircraft and canceled the program. they laid off 12,000 people in one day in the toronto area which was devastating to the economy. the government sent people down with welding torches a couple weeks later to destroy every aircraft that was sitting in the flightline. five of the six had flown. this really ticked off the people, the engineers of the program. jim chamberlain was the program and project manager at that time. im calls up dr. gilreath and
says i have a bunch of good people out here that would like to work on your space program. these two had been working on high-speed aerodynamics. they closed the embassy in toronto, and they brought in roughly 50 to 60 people. i don't know the exact number, but they interviewed each one for about five minutes, and they selected 31 to become members of the space task group. we had the chief designer, john hodge, flight test engineer, the number six aircraft, we had a guy doing ejection seat testing. we had basically the pioneers of aeronautical research in those days. now they are the middle part of the organization of the space task group. i came in with a group of young americans, generally some people who had just served in the military. others just out of college. and we were the raw material for this thing called the space task group. it was amazing, the mixing of these three cultures resulted in a capacity that was greater than the sum of its parts.
and we moved into project mercury. project mercury was basically our boot camp. this is where we learned the business of spaceflight. you know, in those days -- we had computers, but ibm did not put mercurythey control north of the cape. we had a reliable vacuum tube in bermuda helping us do some trajectory stuff. our communications was low-speed teletype that dated back to the days of america's pony express. basically, we had 13 tracking stations around the world and we sent young people just like yourselves into these sites that were literally at the ends of the earth. the risk was very high for these young people, because this was the end of the european colonial period. my controllers in nigeria were twice rescued by the army.
in zanzibar, they had worked under protection of the islanders. controllers would march them out, then move them back to the zanzibar hotel, and place gunners around the hotel. we shut that down after only three years. but these young people were our eyes, ears, and basically the voice as the spacecraft passed overhead. and those that stayed in flight operations became leaders of project apollo. we had many near-misses during the gemini program. when gus grissom and others hit the water, the top popped off and we almost lost gus, the reason is almost every one of of crew men would put roles dimes in the pockets of their flight suits.
when he was in the water struggling to survive, the flight suit was being pulled down by these rolls of dimes he would give to the team. we almost lost gus, but we got him. john glenn's was pretty close. we had a heatshield with him. and we learned many things about spaceflight in those days. i will get to them when i wrap up. but john was close. we did not tell him we thought he had a heatshield problem until he was in the process of reentering over the texas site. he said, by the way, why am i retaining my rocket package? i should have jettisoned this when i was back over california. explained wewe thought we had a retro rocket package to hold the heatshield on. scotty carpenter, he was virtually out of fuel as he arrived over the hawaii site. it was very fortunate that i had a controller there, a very young guy just like you folks right here.
basically, he kept talking and reviewing the checklist for reentry with the crewmen after physical communications, line of sight. he just kept talking. fortunately, the atmosphere was such that scotty heard him and started packing up. he got over the california site, very low on manual fuel, maybe just enough to turn around. we got him into an orientation that was close enough for reentry. we had him fire the retro rocket. he landed a couple of hundred miles downrange. but the control team now is learning the business of spaceflight. and when we got down finally to the end of the program, we felt that, yeah, we know what the business is about and we know what we got to do. the key thing was during john
, glenn's flight, we had about five people in the control room. chief engineer, the manufacturer, program manager, the flight director, all saying what are we going to do? , they are still debating, the spacecraft is going around the world. we finally said, look, there has got to be one boss and he has to be god. no one will challenge him. he is the ultimate. we established responsibilities for the flight director to take any actions necessary for crew safety and mission success. the other thing we found basically in my work in the flight test of the b-52, i did not put anything in the bomb bay that i did not have complete understanding of. the thing is we were flying spacecraft, launching rockets that we have virtually no good data on. we have a pocket checklist which fit in the lower pants of a pilot's flight suit. very rough schematic. it didn't tell the integrated information you needed to make real-time, time critical, high
-risk decisions. so at that time, i established, i am going to become more knowledgeable than the people who designed the spacecraft. and i got support from chris craft, and i got support from walt williamson. we told our contractor, we are going to build the manuals that we fly with. very shortly thereafter, we set up the process of learning by doing. every product, by the time we flew apollo, was developed by the mission controllers themselves. the flight systems, every procedure, normal procedures, emergency procedures, the whole nine yards, by the people in the mission control team. the other thing was the training. the training would come in from the manufacturers. and basically, we knew what the business was. so i picked up the responsibility for all integrated training. and to this day, we still perform the integrated training. between the control team and he
-- the controllers. so these were the major changes that we used in getting ready for the gemini program. gemini, we had to come to grips with the new technologies of space. and for the first time, we had a computer on board the spacecraft. we knew nothing about the computer. but we were very fortunate. the army command had been working with computers in the ground air missile command. so we found a lot of people who were retiring and leaving fort bliss. and we brought these guys in. they became our leaders for training. they basically taught us the business of what using computers was about. 4000-word machine. basically, we had to load in the programs for each one of the phases. but that was our first entry. we got into the use of cryogenics and fuel cells, propellant rockets. it was interesting. during mercury, we used steam to
basically rotate the thrust of the control. that is how we maneuvered the spacecraft around. that would not get you very far if you wanted to rendezvous with something. so it came along, the gemini program, and basically this is where we developed our teams. and they were darn -- i will not say darn good, but they were the best darn teams i worked with in my whole life. we demonstrated incredible flexibility. we started biting the bullet for things we normally would not do. mission, wemini said let's try to do a rendezvous with the booster. we would separate from the booster and try to do it. every pilot, boy, it did not work worth a darn there. it would separate. hmm, there's something different about this new environment. finally, we started a simulation capability that allowed us to train the crews as well as the ground. we basically now had started to
break ground in these technologies. and we moved into the apollo program. and myself, john hosch, chris kraftwerk the flight directors for the apollo one mission. basically, we all transitioned after we finished assigned missions in gemini. and we were sitting at the consoles generally 27, 1967, roughly one month from launch. our crewmembers were gus grissom, ed white, and roger chaffee. we had worked with gus on the mercury and gemini program. i did most of the procedural work. roger chaffee was sort of an unknown to us, although he did have a reputation as one of the navy pilots who took pictures over cuba during the missile crisis. the tests had not been going well. we had problems with communications, problems with life support.
basically, crew reporting a noxious odor inside the spacecraft. test procedures, we would frequently call halts to countdowns. four minutes before, fire exploded in the spacecraft. and those of us that were there that day will never forget it. it was searing. but basically, it was what was needed to get our act together to follow president kennedy's challenge to go to the moon. and we did. we became tough and confident. we became tough and competent. those were the words written on every blackboard. at mission control and in my office area. tough and confident. and we went and we flew the first of the apollo missions, apollo seven. we have a sick astronaut onboard but that is ok. we could handle that. it turned out to be that
spacecraft was literally perfect. then it was time to play poker. because the lunar module was well behind in the development of the software. we could not pack all the software into that machine. 60k machine, we could not pack it all in there. we were overweight. so what did we do? we decided, let's go to the moon. go to the moon with no escape system. just a basic command service module. the systems that are on there, the second flight test, and go for it. it was interesting, sitting at mission control that christmas eve listening to the crew, reading from the book of genesis as they circled the moon. and it was a wonderful christmas eve. and it was a christmas eve that our nation needed badly, because in that decade, we had the protests against vietnam, we had the civil rights issues that were coming up. it was good for america that day.
so then finally, we got ready to move into the apollo program. i mean, going into the final phase of the apollo program. i flew the first manned flight test of the lunar module in the apollo nine mission. and it is interesting, we developed a lot of the procedures. we did not know it at that time that we would use to save the crew of apollo 13. training people would put us at the wrong end of the rendezvous. we had three rendezvous' we had to do and they would put us out with the lunar module and we had to come up with how to rescue them. we learned how to power down the spacecraft, etc. how do we stand? where is my aggie how much time do i have? 10 minutes? ok, another five. we are in good shape. ok, we learned to power down. the powerdown checklist, we had basically a dress rehearsal of the entire lunar landing on the apollo 10 mission.
it was overweight, didn't carry enough fuel. the software had yet to be completed. and basically we came down to roughly 45,000 feet and decided we would terminate that and power up and execute fire in the hole staging. that was sort of the baseline that we had going towards apollo 11. apollo 11 was sort of a dream mission. by this time, i was the director of the flight control division. after the apollo fire, they had a massive organization change. you talk about the luck of the draw. since i had to run the division as well as trying to become director, i had an odd number of missions. i had 1, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, and 17. the luck of the draw established i would be part of the first
lunar landing mission. in mission control, we basically, again, run with a team of four controllers. the training is extremely rugged. there are many mission faces you have to train in be proficient two in down the line. so basically, we have four teams that we split the job into. one team is always designated as basically a lead team. they handle the interface, they handle the media, they had the less handle development of the flight rules right down the , line. the boss at this time is assigning the flight directors and their teams to mission phases. and the day that he picked me for the first lunar landing, i could have hugged him. i really wanted to get in there and say, god, what a deal. this is it.
basically, i assumed the responsibility for the planning for that operation. but in the process of doing the planning, we had a lot of things that were still left open from the apollo 10 mission. in particular, we had to learn to land that guy. the key thing was there were certain characteristics. we had a very dumb software up there. literally, it was dumb. one of the things is we would update the landing radar based on ground data. we could be several thousand feet in altitude. difference. when we got ready to land, we needed to know what the real altitude was. so we had radar on board that would take to limit or the less -- that would take telemeter altitude, so the computer now had the stuff you gave them, it
had what it is measuring, and if it was too great a difference it would just dive into the moon, try to solve the problem instantaneously. so we had a lot of crashes. to a great extent, my boss, i had a telephone behind me and everyone was listening to how the training is going. they would call you up, sort of like, what they want to talk about. why are you crashing? so i finally turned the switch off so they could not call me anymore. and that was the nature of our work. but as time came along, we developed the skills. and it was interesting to see how this group came together for this particular event. it comes to landing day now, and it is now time to go down to the moon. and there's about a 28-minute period from the time the spacecraft cracks the hill and you go through taking a look at the spacecraft, is the spacecraft on time, on the
proper trajectory right on down the line. you have a series of go, no go's, you go through this process, then you make the commitment to go for defense -- descent. there are four problems aboard the spacecraft that we did not know about. but we would very quickly learn about. when the two spacecraft undocked, there was a residual pressure in the tunnel. and it was sort of like a champagne cork, pop. it essentially was the same as performing a maneuver. and depending upon the orientation of the spacecraft, it established what would happen in the trajectory. it would establish a radial velocity component area. but it also shifted us downrange. we did not know this until finally we got tracking data. when we heard this, we did not know the impact. we had not figured out the
impact yet. the crew had basically been upside down. they knew we would be landing law. the next thing we had with nasa communications problems. i almost waved off the first attempt at landing three times, because the antenna was trying to look through a piece of metal that had been installed underneath the thrusters with tape. but they never accommodated this and provided the pointing for those antennas as we are going down. they were put on because of flight test data and the lunar module missions indicated there was burning and abrasion of the skin of the spacecraft. ok, five minutes. i have two more minutes, then we will get into the movie part of it. so we have that coming up as a surprise. a massive communications problem. the one thing that darn near killed us, however, is we had a
discrepancy that was noted on a interface between the rocket and the radar. they normally ran at about 85% cpu. this aberration now, this error in the interface, added another 13% cpu. now we are at 98% capacity in that computer. and as soon as the crew gets an alarm, they ask what it is, boom, we fault down to navigation and control. this was probably one of the toughest calls. the software is trying to make that decision, he is also trying to say, do we accept the landing radar we got? so he has to move quickly from one problem to another problem,
use this back room to give me the answer to the landing radar while he works the computer. it was a very interesting time. basically, this was probably -- i look at apollo 11 as much more different data -- difficult than apollo 13. because apollo 13, we had time to think and work, and we had a team that we could bring to bear. but in apollo 11, we had seconds for every decision we would make. now, can we show the movie i got from the actual landing? ok. we should have it. here we go. [video clip] >> eagle, you are looking great. >> ok. all flight commanders, going to go for landing. >> go. >> go. >> go. >> capcom, we are go for landing. >> go for landing, over. >> go for landing. 3000 speed. >> 1201. >> roger, 1201.
>> we are go. we are go. >> into the ag, 47 degrees. >> roger. >> how is our margin looking? >> it looks ok. >> eagle looking great. you are go. roger 1202, we copy you. >> how are you doing? >> we look good here. guidance, you happy? >> go. >> 700 feet. 21 down. 33 degrees. 100 b. down to 19. 540 feet, down to 30, down to 15. >> at hold. >> standard speed down 3.5. 47 forward. 1.5 down.
>> 40 feet down. picking up some dust. 2.5 down. great shadow. forward. drifting to the right. >> 30 seconds. >> 30 seconds. >> back right. ok. engine stopped. the eagle has landed. >> we copy you on the ground. you have a bunch of guys about to turn blue. we are breathing again. thanks a lot. [end video clip] [applause] mr. kranz: that was interesting, because you notice the communications discipline there. once we hit low-level, no one was talking except the guy calling out seconds of fuel remaining.
and we had a guy in the back room, because we knew that once we hit low-level, we had 120 seconds of fuel and a 30% throttle setting. and he had a stopwatch in each hand looking at an analog trace of above and below 30%, trying to mentally give us the answer on how many seconds of fuel remaining we had. and we got good enough that we could nail it within about 10 seconds. when we landed the moon, we thought we had 17 seconds. we were pretty close to about 30 at that time. but when you go down on the moon the first time, that is calling it pretty close. the other thing was was back in the computer program. neil armstrong is a pilot. i don't know if you have seen him flying the lunar landing testing vehicle, but when he
punched out of that thing, he had rotated about 90 degrees and his ejection seat went out about horizontal. about three swings and a parachute before he hit the ground. first attention is to fly the airplane. and as soon as the program alarm s started occurring, he knew he did not have ejection capability up there. if he had a problem, he would be in the abort. he was flying that airplane. he should have been when the alarms came out looking at his first landing site and picking out, maneuvering the spacecraft using the landing point designator to find a place to land. at the time that he came down there, he was basically surrounded by, in front of him was basically a crater about as large around as a football field. and he had to make a decision, am i going to land sort of for fly over? if you landed short of, he had
to be sure to clear everything behind him. so he had to fly over. the other interesting thing is during this entire flying around the surface, basically he was blowing the lunar dust. and i don't know how many of you have driven in a snowstorm down a road with the wind behind you, the snow is moving so it is really hard to figure out what is going on. basically, he had to find a large boulder. he found one about three meters. basically, that is what he used to determine his reference. somebody is going to ask me, would i like to do it again? yeah, i would like to do it again. because we worked for two solid hours making sure it was safe to remain on the surface before we could join the rest of the world in celebration. i would like to do it one more time so we could join the world celebrating at the moment of landing. ok, questions? that's enough. [applause]
mr. kranz: ok. a couple minutes. >> anybody got a question? kranz: i think they are hungry. >> good afternoon, sir. midshipman first class from penn state university, sir. with renewed interest in space exploration, do you think nuclear thermal rockets will play a big part? mr. kranz: that's a good question. i think propulsion technology is going to be key. but whenever anybody asks me a question, based on my experience over about 40 years, it is going to be easier to build the rocket and spacecraft than it is to build the team. because the team is what will make missions happen.
and when they talk about basically, we are going to have artemis program, we are going to launch in 2024, i say better get building that team right now, because you are already behind the power curve. and i think that the workforce is the real key to success of any program. and we were blessed to have this marvelous space task group with the experience it brought in. i think today we do not have the broad experience in the industry we once had. so you are going to have to rebuild leadership. i was talking up at the cruise committee, you have to focus upon your objective, we have to get unity within our nation, we have a lot we have to do before we can move onward. >> thank you, sir. >> one more question to finish. >> hello, sir. i am a mechanical engineering student at kansas state. my question to you is, if you
had to pick one or two, a handful of traits, that you think are most valuable in an engineer, or a developer like that, what would you -- mr. kranz: that is an interesting question. it is one that my training team darn near killed me on. it is learn to listen. ok? my training team -- i was getting ahead of the team. i was coming up with the answer. wante was not letting them do e work because that is their job. basically they nailed me one day to the point where i executed the port and i landed in the atlas mountains. that is an altitude higher than when parachutes open. if you notice in the apollo 13 movie, i have a very long communications court. i learned and developed the discipline to step away from the data and i start strolling back and forth. looks like i am praying. and i am listening to my team,
intense listening. when i am ready, make a decision, i sit down, the team knows it, and we go off. but basically, you have to learn to use your people and listen to them. ok? >> thank you. [applause] thank you thank you. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] history tv american all weekend every weekend on c-span three. historianilitary and -- military historian john kuehn discussing u.s. naval activities impose great war europe from 1918 to 1921. professor kuehn profile several andheavy commanders