Christopher Columbus Kraft Jr – one of the founders of NASA, its first flight director and key architect of Apollo and space shuttle programs – died 95 years of age.
Back in the early days of NASA, the Agency's Chief of Staff, Robert Gillut, instructed Craft to develop rules and procedures for safe flight management of the human body o Space through the darkness and back to Earth . Kraft had to do all this without the help of a calculator or a sophisticated computer and without any reference material. And he had to hurry because the Soviet Union had already taken a major lead in the space race.
Over time, the work Kraft did in writing these rules, as well as hiring a talented team of flight and controllers, helped NASA fly on the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. Craft was, in the words of astronaut Neil Armstrong, "control" in the control of missions. Today, NASA's mission in Houston bears its name – the Mission Control Center of Christopher Kraft Jr..
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On a personal level, Chris Kraft was also my friend. It hurts me to write about his death.
I met Chris late in my life while I was a Houston Chronicle reporter. The year was 2009, and I was trying to write a story about the 40th anniversary of Apollo's landing on the Moon. He invited me to visit his home in Pure Lake, and it turned out I was living about a mile. His wife, Betty Ann, met me kindly at the door, and Chris and I climbed upstairs in his diary for a long discussion.
Negotiations on Coke
We did not stop talking there. I just started writing about NASA more thoroughly, and Kraft took the time to explain how things happened, at least from his point of view. At that time, Kraft focused on saving the space shuttle that George W. Bush had decided to stop after the 2003 Columbia catastrophe. Kraft directed the Johnson Space Center in the 1970s when engineers designed and managed the development of multiple use. spacecraft. When we started talking, it was too late. The boat would perform its last mission in 2011.
Every few months I will worship Craft's home and get into a routine. We sat on the upper floor in leather chairs. Kraft would have asked what I heard about the space program. It was an open season: I can ask what I wanted, from his experiences at Virginia Tech, about NASA's early years, about which astronauts he liked – and not – about his thoughts about NASA's current events. Somewhere along the way, Betty Anne would bring us ice-coke cups.
Later Kraft would become an inspiration for the Adrift series I wrote about Chronicle in 2014. At that time he became a crude critic. of the space agency's approach to human space flights as it tries to reproduce the Apollo model with a large missile, capsule, and more. In the series I tried to voice the disappointment of Kraft and other old Apollo veterans who were both disappointed and terrified that the program they had worked in the 1960s had retreated from deep space and did not return. In 2017, Kraft helped again as a leading voice in our "Biggest Jump" series to remember Apollo and understand why NASA had not gone further. You can see our full 1 hour and 20 minutes interview with Kraft below. Craft was particularly worried that the Space Shuttle launcher would take the major shuttle engines, use them once, and throw them into the ocean. "You'll burn those engines and throw them away," Kraft told me once. "My God, you can not do it very often unless you have a lot of money. He believes NASA should not try to compete with the private sector when companies such as SpaceX have begun to show they were very good at building missiles.
In the last 10 years, it's been hard to see Chris grow old, give up. his favorite golf as he slowed down. There were more shots of Craft in his upper floor office with famous golfers than with space memories – and he had many of them. Sometimes I had noticed something that would have taken me home exactly how much he had seen. A few years ago, for example, I saw a label with the name of one of the tables in his office, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the graduation of the Craft College by Virginia Technique in 1945. The name itself is 20 years old.
Honoring his memory
He was born on 28 February 1924. His father was born just before Columbus Day, in 1892, on the 400th anniversary of European contacts with America. Thus Kraft inherited his father's name. – Can the name affect the course of life? Kraft asks in his memoirs Flight . "I have more than a century to consider this question, I think that with a name like Christopher Columbus Kraft Jr., part of my life's direction has been settled from the beginning."
In his early years, Kraft mostly had only a name. His family was poor. But, like so many young men and women who became adults during the Second World War, he served his country in various ways and grew up with the nation's growth. Kraft went to work for the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, where he helped test aircraft. This organization has eventually become the core of NASA and Kraft's career has come out of it.
I've never seen Craft in his bloom, of course. Having renounced golf, he continued to train from all things by going to the mall. So, over the past few years, if you saw an older, tall-haired, white-haired man wrapped around Bibbrook Mall, maybe this is one of the most responsible for the moon landing that we celebrated during the Last Week  I have often wondered what really happened to the young men and women of Apollo who have so far flown, fast and high in the 1960s to spend the rest of their lives trying to do so far. In the 1920s and 1930s, they together achieved this great thing. They will never again be part of such a monumental achievement.
Today, when the legends of Apollo leave – and dozens of 400,000 men and women working in Apollo die every day – there's really only one thing we can do. I do to honor their great works half a century ago. We can build on their work by going further by going smarter and then staying there. I can finally say that this is what Chris Kraft wants.
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