As a young boy growing up in Toledo, Ohio, Gene Kranz dreamed of one day flying and touching the sky. After studying math, science, and engineering drafting in high school, he earned a degree in aeronautical engineering from Parks College in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1954. After graduation, he was commissioned in the United States Air Force, entered Undergraduate Pilot Training, and flew high performance aircraft including the F-80 Shooting Star, F-86 Sabrejet, and the F-100 Super Sabre, in such units as the famed 69th Fighter Squadron in Osan, Korea. Leaving active military service in 1958, he became a civilian flight test engineer for McDonnell Aircraft at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, helping develop the Quail decoy missile for the B-47 Stratojet and B-52 Stratofortress aircraft.
While reading Aviation Weekly in 1960, he came upon an ad looking for engineers to work at the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Space Task Force in Langley, Virginia. He was instantly hired as the assistant flight director for Project Mercury. Kranz soon rose in the NASA organization, became flight director for the famed "White Flight" team during the Project Gemini and Apollo missions and was appointed the division chief for flight control for the legendary Apollo missions. He led his generation's greatest minds, and together they successfully solved extremely complicated problems, culminating in placing 12 men on the surface of the moon. On 20 July 1969, Astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Lunar Module, placed his foot on another celestial body, and said, "Thats one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
In April 1970, his leadership was once again called upon when the unthinkable happened 55 hours, 55 minutes, and four seconds into the Apollo XIII mission. Astronaut Jim Lovell made the now-famous call to NASA Mission Control, "Houston, we have a problem." Kranzs mission control team brought astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert safely to back Earth. Kranz's outstanding leadership in this critical moment saved the lives of three American heroes, and perhaps the space program. His book about the early manned space program, Failure is Not an Option, became a New York Times Best Seller.
He demonstrated outstanding leadership and knowledge again during the NASA Skylab program and was promoted to Director of Mission Operations for the Space Shuttle in 1983. In 1994, Kranz retired from NASA after 37 years of extraordinary service. In 1970, President Richard Nixon awarded Kranz the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award. President Ronald Reagan further honored him by designating him as a Distinguished Member of the Senior Executive Service. He now lives in Texas with his wife Marta and spends his spare time speaking to our nation's youth on the wonders of space and space travel.
On 16 July 1969, the mighty Saturn V's seven million pounds of thrust hurtled Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, and Michael Collins into space. Gene Kranz stood at the Mission Control Directors console four days later, when the lunar module set down on the Moon. His leadership played a key role in his generations greatest achievement, "landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth."