Eugene F. “Gene” Kranz is one of America’s great space exploration pioneers. He was born on 17 August 1933 in Toledo, Ohio. As a child he always had a strong fascination with flight and the possibilities of space travel. After studying math, science and engineering drafting in high school, he earned a degree in aeronautical engineering from Parks College of Saint Louis University, Missouri. In 1954, Kranz was commissioned in the United States Air Force and entered undergraduate pilot training. Afterward, he flew the F-80 Shooting Star and the F-86 Sabre with the 69th Fighter Bomber Squadron in Osan, Republic of Korea, and the F-100 Super Sabre assigned to the 355th Fighter Squadron, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Separating from active-duty military service in 1958, he became a civilian flight-test engineer for the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, developing the Quail decoy missile for the B-47 Stratojet and B-52 Stratofortress. Kranz was honorably discharged from the Air Force Reserve as a Captain in 1972. While reading Aviation Weekly in 1960, he came upon an advertisement looking for engineers to work at the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Space Task Group in Langley, Virginia. Initially, Kranz was hired as a Mission Control Procedures Officer and was later promoted as an Assistant Flight Director for Project Mercury and as one of three Flight Directors for the Gemini program. He led the teams for the Gemini and Apollo missions and set many of our nation’s first space records. On 20 July 1969, his “White” Flight Control team stood at the helm as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin reached the surface of the moon, landing with only 17 seconds of fuel remaining. In April 1970, his leadership was once again called upon when the Command and Service Module oxygen tank exploded 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.” Over the next four days the mission control teams directed by Kranz brought astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert safely back to Earth. Kranz’s outstanding leadership during this crisis saved the lives of three American heroes and possibly the entire space program. Later, he performed as Flight Control Division Chief, Flight Director and Flight Operations Director for the NASA Skylab Program and was promoted to Director of Mission Operations for the Space Shuttle in 1983. In 1970, President Richard Nixon awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. President Ronald Reagan further honored Kranz by designating him as a Distinguished Member of the Senior Executive Service. In 1994, Kranz retired from NASA after 37 years of extraordinary service. He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2015.
In 2005, he was designated an “Ambassador of Exploration” joining John Glenn, Alan Shepard, Neil Armstrong and other early astronauts in this honor. His book about the early manned space program, Failure is Not an Option, became a New York Times best seller and a History Channel documentary. After retirement, Kranz flew as a flight engineer for six years on a B-17 Flying Fortress and constructed and piloted an aerobatic biplane. He and his wife Marta live in Texas. They have six children and thirteen grandchildren. Eugene Kranz now spends his spare time speaking to our nation’s professional, military, civic and youth groups on leadership, trust, values and teamwork.
Eugene Kranz was first selected as an Eagle by Air Command and Staff College’s Gathering of Eagles in 2004 and subsequently honored in 2006, 2008, and 2009, respectively.