Kranz is best known as a steely eyed missile man from the 1960s.He was a flight director in mission control
and is remembered for wearing his trademark white vest.
is a special human being and a man who exudes integrity.It would be difficult to find a more caring
On Friday, February 25th,
my friend Mark Shelton and I drove down
for Gene Kranz’s retirement party from NASA.The
party that evening was held at the GilruthCenter
on the JSC campus.
had arranged for us to get tickets to this event by phoning Kranz’s
He arranged for us to stop by her office and purchase two $10 tickets
Kranz retirement party.
met the secretary at her office and she told us that there would be no
for the tickets.Since we had driven so
far just to be there the tickets were complimentary. The secretary then
informed us that Mr. Kranz wanted to see us in his office.That was a shocking development.
gleefully welcomed Mark and I into his office. We had a great
must have lasted on the order of 20 minutes. During that time, Kranz
some interesting stories.
story that he told us was about the early days of Mercury and Gemini.NASA was afraid that the communists in South America would try to blow up the
ships that were based off the South American coast.
protect against communist incursions, Kranz would requisition a case of
grenades for defense of the ships during the space missions.The procedure was that every so often someone
would go out on deck with a grenade.They
would pull its pin and drop the grenade over
the side of the ship. The shock from the
explosion would take out
any communist scuba divers that might be swimming in the vicinity.
said that plan worked fine until the crews on the ships figured out
grenades were a good way to go fishing.He
said after that revelation, the number of
grenades used during a
mission went way up.
also got in to an amazingly frank political discussion with Mr. Kranz.
were not looking good for the space station.Kranz’s opinion was that President Clinton was
driving it into the
ground with his political agenda with the Russians.It was really sad to hear this. I believe
that these politics were impetus behind Kranz’s decision to retire.
a more cheerful note, Mr. Kranz was retiring to a life of flying.He was planning to build a biplane and fly
it.He was also a member of a museum
that flies World War II aircraft.Kranz
was a member of a B-17 crew.In 1993 he
flew on the air show tour with the B-17 crew.
office was decorated with ample reminders of the glory days of Apollo’s
exploration of the moon.He even showed
us one of the vests that his wife had made for him to wear in Mission
we were seated in the office Kranz noticed that I was carrying a small
portfolio.He asked me what was in it.I told him some photos of the space
program.He then said “Would you like me
to sign one for you?”Sheepishly, I
responded that I did not have any appropriate photos.The photos that I had were really applicable
to only specific astronauts.Kranz
and I left his office.We were shocked
that common people like us could have a private audience with a
figure of this stature.Not only that,
but it was on one of the very last days that he worked at NASA.
retirement party was later in the evening at the Gilruth center.That is a facility on the JSC campus that is
used for NASA employee events.
certainly stood out in the crowd at the event.He
was wearing the red, white, and blue vest that he
wore during the
last manned landing on the moon.The
vest no longer would button up, but Kranz still looked sharp in it.
few people at the party were selected to say a few words about Kranz.
Kraft in particular had a very interesting anecdote to tell about Kranz.Kraft told a story about the early days of
Space Exploration when they were all still located at the Cape.
said that in the early days of launching rockets, nobody had any idea
were doing.They just improvised and
made it up as they went. They knew plenty about flying airplanes, but
were a different beast.
day they were going to launch an unmanned Mercury Redstone.Upon ignition of the rocket engine, a big
cloud of smoke obscured the vehicle.They
were amazed to see something shoot out of the cloud at a tremendous
speed.It traveled much faster than the
rocket should have.In a moment they
realized that this was not the rocket at all. It was only the escape
pair of umbilical cords at the bottom of the rocket was not precisely
length.That caused one cord to pull out
sooner than the other. This caused the Redstone to shut down since the
system thought that an error had occurred. The rocket settled back down
pad and remained standing.
few seconds after the escape tower jettisoned, barometric sensors
parachute recovery system. The parachutes popped out like a Champaign
cork in mock celebration.
they had a real problem. There was a Redstone full of fuel with
billowing in the wind. To make matters
worse the retrorockets on the Mercury capsule were armed. In essence, this was a very large bomb.They frantically tried to figure out to safe
he got to this part of the story, Kraft paused to look directly over at
Kranz.Still looking at Kranz, Kraft
continued, “and then some guy even came up with the bright idea of
high powered rifle and shooting a hole in the fuel tank! He thought
relieve the pressure.”
to say they didn't follow Kranz’s recommendation.In
the end, one of the McDonnell Vice
Presidents volunteered to go up the tower. He opened the hatch, and
the switch to disarm the retro rockets.
Bales recounted the events leading to his “Go Flight” calls on the
during the Apollo 11 landing.He said
that he really had no pressure making that call.Before
the landing attempt, Kranz gathered
everyone on the team, looked them straight in the eye and told them
that he was
behind them 100%.No matter what decisions
they made, he supported them.
Bales, told this, I looked over at Gene Kranz.That
steely eyed missile man had tears in his eyes.He
seemed close to crying.From that display
of emotion, you could tell
how much the people on Kranz’s team meant to him.
I introduced myself to Steve Bales. I had him sign a book about Apollo
had brought to the event.
was presented with a few mementos to remember his days at NASA. On
particular that stood out was a flown tile from the first flight of
that we noticed attending this retirement celebration included: Paul
Kerwin, Gene Cernan, Bryan O’Conner, Dave Walker, Dave Leestma, and Jim
Mark and I decided that it was time to start our journey back home.We still had a 5 plus hour drive ahead of us.We approached Mr. Kranz to wish him luck and
say good-bye.He sincerely thanked us for
making such a long journey to attend his retirement party.In brotherhood, Kranz slapped us on our