Christopher Columbus Kraft Jr., called “the architect of Mission Control” by historian Andrew Chaiken, has died of natural causes in Houston, Texas on July 22, 2019. He was was 95.
NASA’s “first flight director and managed all of the Mercury missions, as well some of the Gemini flights. He was a senior planner during the Apollo lunar program. Later he led the Johnson Space Center in Houston and oversaw development of the space shuttle,” NPR reported.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement that Kraft “created the concept of NASA’s Mission Control and developed its organization, operational procedures and culture, then made it a critical element of the success of the nation’s human spaceflight programs. He joined NASA’s Space Task Group in 1958 and led the human spaceflight program from Mercury all the way through the early space shuttle missions. His concept of mission operations is still in daily use by the International Space Station mission control team. Chris was one of the core team members that helped our nation put humans in space and on the Moon, and his legacy is immeasurable.”
Kraft was born Feb. 28, 1924 in Phoebus, Virginia, now a part of Hampton, VA. He attempted to join the Navy during WWII, but was declared unfit for military service due to a hand injury. He studied mechanical engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI, now Virginia Tech) .
He published an autobiography, Flight: My Life in Mission Control in 2001.
He retired from NASA in 1982, and then served as a consultant for STEM companies such as Rockwell International and IBM. He was also a director of the Houston Chamber of Commerce.
Fittingly, he lived to see the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing. Kraft trained other NASA flight directors, including John Hodge, Glynn Lunney and Gene Kranz. His influence will be felt as long as NASA continues.