|Name:||Christopher Columbus Kraft|
|Birth Day:||February 28, 1924|
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He graduated from Virginia Tech in 1944 with an aeronautical engineering degree.
Born in Phoebus, Virginia, on February 28, 1924, Kraft was named after his father, Christopher Columbus Kraft, who was born in New York City in 1892 near the newly renamed Columbus Circle. Kraft's father, the son of Bavarian immigrants, had found his name an embarrassment, but passed it along to his son nonetheless. In later years, Kraft — as well as other commentators — would consider it peculiarly appropriate. Kraft commented in his autobiography that, with the choice of his name, "some of my life's direction was settled from the start." His father died in 1957, aged 64. His mother, Vanda Olivia (née Suddreth; 1892–1980), was a nurse.
In 1942, Kraft began his studies at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) and became a member of the Corps of Cadets. During his freshman year, he attempted to enlist in the military as a United States Navy cadet, but was rejected because of a burned right hand that he had suffered at age three. Because of wartime demands, Virginia Tech was operating on a twelve-month schedule, and Kraft finished his degree in only two years. He graduated in December 1944 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering.
Since 1950, Kraft was married to Betty Anne Kraft, formerly Turnbull, whom he met in high school. They had two children, Gordon and Kristi-Anne. In his autobiography, Kraft recognized the sacrifices that his family made as a result of his work for NASA, saying that "I was ... more of a remote authority figure to Gordon and Kristi-Anne than a typical American father."
Although he enjoyed his work, Kraft found it increasingly stressful, especially since he did not consider himself to be a strong theoretician. In 1956, he was diagnosed with an ulcer and started thinking about a change of career.
In 1957, the Russian flight of Sputnik 1 prompted the United States to accelerate its fledgling space program. On July 29, 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which established NASA and subsumed NACA within this newly created organization. Langley Research Center became a part of NASA, as did Langley employees such as Kraft. Even before NASA began its official existence in October, Kraft was invited by Gilruth to become a part of a new group that was working on the problems of putting a man into orbit. Without much hesitation, he accepted the offer. When the Space Task Group was officially formed on November 5, Kraft became one of the original thirty-five engineers to be assigned to Project Mercury, America's man-in-space program.
After John Glenn's flight, Kraft had vowed that he would no longer allow his decisions as flight director to be overruled by anyone outside Mission Control. The mission rules, whose drafting had been overseen by Kraft, stated that "the flight director may, after analysis of the flight, choose to take any necessary action required for the successful completion of the mission." For Kraft, the power that the flight director held over every aspect of the mission extended to his control over the actions of the astronauts. In his 1965 interview with Time, he stated:
Kraft received numerous awards and honors for his work. These include the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal; four NASA Distinguished Service Medals; the Distinguished Citizen Award, given to him by the city of Hampton, Virginia in 1966; the John J. Montgomery Award in 1963; and the Goddard Memorial Trophy, awarded by the National Space Club in 1979. In 1999, Kraft received the National Space Trophy from the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement Foundation, which described him as "a driving force in the U.S. human space flight program from its beginnings to the Space Shuttle era, a man whose accomplishments have become legendary."
With the beginning of the Apollo program, Kraft expected to return to his role in Mission Control. He would have been lead flight director on the first crewed Apollo mission (later known as Apollo 1), which was scheduled to launch in early 1967. However, on January 27, 1967, the three crew members were killed in a fire during a countdown test on the pad. At the time of the fire, Kraft was in Mission Control, but under the circumstances there was little he could do. He was asked by Betty Grissom, the widow of astronaut Gus Grissom, to be one of the pallbearers at Grissom's funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.
After the Apollo 1 fire in 1967, Kraft had reluctantly concluded that his responsibilities as a manager would keep him from serving as a flight director on the next crewed mission, Apollo 7, and on missions thereafter. Henceforth his involvement in the Apollo program would be at a higher level.
As the director of Flight Operations, Kraft was closely involved in planning the broad outlines of the program. He was one of the first NASA managers to become involved in the decision to send Apollo 8 on a circumlunar flight. Due to problems with Lunar Module development in 1968, NASA faced the possibility of a full Apollo test mission being delayed until 1969. As a substitute, George Low, the manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office, came up with the idea of assigning a new mission profile to Apollo 8, one that could be flown without the lunar module. The idea was discussed in early August at a meeting between Low, Kraft, Gilruth and Deke Slayton:
On Christmas Eve, 1968, Apollo 8 went into orbit around the Moon. Only ten years earlier, Kraft had joined Gilruth's newly founded Space Task Group. Now, the two men sat together in Mission Control, reflecting on how far they had come. Around them, the room was filled with cheers, but Kraft and Gilruth celebrated more quietly.
In 1969, Kraft was named deputy director of the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC). On January 14, 1972, he became the director of the MSC, replacing Gilruth, for whom Kraft had worked since his arrival at Langley in 1945. Space commentator Anthony Young has described Kraft as a "superb successor" to Gilruth, second only to him in the history of center directors.
Kraft was eligible to retire in the early 1980s, but he chose not to take the option. He remained as center director in the status of a "reemployed annuitant," receiving his government pension, but still employed by NASA. In 1981 he had been involved in a conflict with the NASA Administrator and other top officials over the conduct of the STS-2 mission, and over issues relating to NASA organization and management. This contributed to making his position at NASA more tenuous.
In April 1982, Kraft made what newspaper reports called a "surprise announcement" that he intended to step down as center director at the end of the year. He denied that his resignation had anything to do with the threatened possibility of Johnson Space Center losing its leading role in Space Shuttle operations or in the development of NASA's Space Station Freedom.
In 1994, Kraft was appointed chairman of the space shuttle management independent review team, a panel made up of leading aerospace experts, whose remit was to investigate ways in which NASA could make its Space Shuttle program more cost effective. The panel's report, known as the Kraft report, was published in February 1995. It recommended that NASA's Space Shuttle operations should be outsourced to a single private contractor, and that "NASA should consider ... progression towards the privatization of the space shuttle." It also criticized the effect of safety changes made by NASA after the Challenger accident, saying that they had "created a safety environment that is duplicative and expensive." Fundamental to the report was the idea that the Space Shuttle had become "a mature and reliable system ... about as safe as today's technology will provide."
The report was controversial even at the time of its publication. John Pike, space policy director for the Federation of American Scientists, commented that "the Kraft report is a recipe for disaster. They are basically saying dismantle the safety and quality assurance mechanisms set in place after the Challenger accident." NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel also took issue with the report, saying in May 1995 that "the assumption that the Space Shuttle systems are now 'mature' smacks of a complacency which may lead to serious mishaps." Nonetheless, NASA accepted the recommendations of the report, and in November 1995, responsibility for shuttle operations was turned over to the United Space Alliance.
Kraft was portrayed by Stephen Root in the 1998 miniseries From the Earth to the Moon. He has been interviewed in numerous documentaries about the space program, including Apollo 13: To the Edge and Back (PBS). In 2018, he was portrayed in the film First Man by J. D. Evermore.
While some of these problems were due to mechanical failures, and responsibility for some of the others is still being debated, Kraft did not hesitate to assign blame to Carpenter, and continued to speak out about the mission for decades afterwards. His autobiography, written in 2001, reopened the issue; the chapter that dealt with the flight of Mercury-Atlas 7 was titled "The Man Malfunctioned." In a letter to The New York Times, Carpenter called the book "vindictive and skewed," and offered a different assessment of the reasons for Kraft's frustration: "in space things happen so fast that only the pilot knows what to do, and even ground control can't help. Maybe that's why he is still fuming after all these years."
In 2001, Kraft published his autobiography, Flight: My Life in Mission Control. It dealt with his life up until the end of the Apollo program, only briefly mentioning his time as center director in the epilogue.
In 2006, NASA gave Kraft the Ambassador of Exploration Award, which carried with it a sample of lunar material brought back by Apollo 11. Kraft in turn presented the award to his alma mater, Virginia Tech, for display in its College of Engineering.
In 2011, the Johnson Space Center renamed its Mission Control Center the Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center in his honor.
It was announced that Kraft would be inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame, on October 1, 2016.
Kraft died on July 22, 2019, in Houston, aged 95, two days after the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moonwalks. No cause was given.
Currently, Christopher Columbus Kraft is 97 years, 4 months and 26 days old. Christopher Columbus Kraft will celebrate 98th birthday on a Monday 28th of February 2022.
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