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Eugene Francis "Gene" Kranz (born August 17, 1933) is a retired NASA Flight Director and manager. Kranz served as a Flight Director, the successor to NASA founding Flight Director Chris Kraft, during the Gemini and Apollo programs, and is best known for his role in directing the successful Mission Control team efforts to save the crew of Apollo 13, which later became the subject story of a major motion picture of the same name, in which he was portrayed by actor Ed Harris. He is also noted for his trademark close-cut flattop hairstyle, and the wearing of dapper white "mission" vests (waistcoats), of different styles and materials made by his wife, Marta Kranz, during missions for which he acted as Flight Director.

A personal friend of the American astronauts of his time, Kranz remains a prominent and colorful figure in the history of U.S. manned space exploration, the embodiment of "NASA tough-and-competent" of the Kranz Dictum. Kranz has been the subject of movies, documentary films, and books and periodical articles. Kranz is a recipient of a Presidential Medal of Freedom.[1] In a 2010 Space Foundation survey, Kranz was ranked as the #2 most popular space hero.[2]

Early yearsEdit

Kranz was born August 17, 1933, in Toledo, Ohio and attended Central Catholic High School. He grew up on a farm that overlooked the Willys-Overland Jeep production plant. His father, Leo Peter Kranz, was the son of a German immigrant, and served as an Army medic during World War I. His father died in 1940, when Eugene was only seven years old. Kranz has two older sisters, Louise and Helen.

His early fascination with flight was apparent in the topic of his high school thesis, entitled "The Design and Possibilities of the Interplanetary Rocket". Kranz graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Saint Louis University's Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology in 1954, and received his commission as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, completing pilot training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas in 1955. Shortly after receiving his wings, Kranz married Marta Cadena, a daughter of Mexican immigrants who fled from Mexico during the Mexican Revolution. Kranz was sent to South Korea to fly the F-86 Sabre aircraft for patrol operations around the Korean DMZ.[3]

After finishing his tour in Korea, Kranz left the Air Force and went to work for McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, where he assisted with the research and testing of new Surface-to-Air (SAM) and Air-to-Ground missiles for the U.S. Air Force at its Research Center at Holloman Air Force Base.

NASA careerEdit

Eugene F. Kranz at his console at the NASA Mission Control Center - Original

Kranz at his console on May 30, 1965, in the Mission Operations Control Room, Mission Control Center, Houston.

After completing the research tests at Holloman Air Force Base, Kranz left McDonnell-Douglas and joined the NASA Space Task Group, then at its Langley Research Center in Virginia. Upon joining NASA, he was assigned, by flight director Christopher C. Kraft, as a Mission Control procedures officer for the unmanned Mercury-Redstone 1 (MR-1) test (dubbed in Kranz's autobiography as the "Four-Inch Flight", due to its failure to launch).

As Procedures Officer, Kranz was put in charge of integrating Mercury Control with the Launch Control Team at Cape Canaveral, Florida, writing the "Go/NoGo" procedures that allowed missions to continue as planned or be aborted, along with serving as a sort of switchboard operator between the control center at Cape Canaveral and the agency's fourteen tracking stations and two tracking ships (via Teletype) located across the globe. Kranz performed this role for all unmanned and manned Mercury flights, including the trailblazing MR-3 and MA-6 flights, which put the first Americans into space and orbit respectively.

After MA-6, he was promoted to Assistant Flight Director for the MA-7 flight of astronaut Scott Carpenter in May, 1962. He continued in this role for the remaining two Mercury flights and the first three Gemini flights. With the upcoming Gemini flights, he was promoted to the Flight Director level and served his first shift, the so-called "operations shift," for the Gemini 4 mission in 1965, the first U.S. EVA and four-day flight. After Gemini, he served as a Flight Director on odd-numbered Apollo missions, including Apollos 7 and 9. He was the Flight Director for Apollo 11, during the moment when the Lunar Module Eagle landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969.

Apollo 13Edit

Template:Details Kranz is perhaps best known for his role as lead flight director during NASA's Apollo 13 manned Moon landing mission. Kranz's team was on duty when part of the Apollo 13 Service Module exploded and they dealt with the initial hours of the unfolding accident.[4] His "White Team", dubbed the "Tiger Team" by the press, set the constraints for the consumption of spacecraft consumables (oxygen, electricity, and water) and controlled the three course-correction burns during the trans-Earth trajectory, as well as the power-up procedures that allowed the astronauts to land safely back on Earth in the command module. He and his team, as well as the astronauts, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for their roles.

In the 2008 Discovery Channel mini-series When We Left Earth, he appears throughout the series with his customary flattop haircut and his white vest from the Apollo 13 mission (mission patch plainly visible)—a clue to the mission for which Kranz has the greatest pride as the NASA MSC flight director ("Crew safety is the first priority"—Kranz).

Later careerEdit

Kranz continued as a Flight Director through Apollo 17, when he worked his last shift as a flight director overseeing the mission liftoff, and then was promoted to Deputy Director of NASA Mission Operations in 1974, becoming Director in 1983. He retired from NASA in 1994 after the successful STS-61 flight that repaired the optically flawed Hubble Space Telescope in 1993. In addition to having written Failure Is Not an Option, which was adapted for cable TV for The History Channel in 2004, he also flies an aerobatic aircraft and serves as a flight engineer for a restored Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.

Gene Kranz's vest from Apollo 13 by Matthew Bisanz

Kranz's vest and pin from the Apollo 13 mission, currently in the National Air and Space Museum


Kranz has six children with his wife, Marta: Carmen (born 1958), Lucy (1959), Joan Frances (1961), Mark (1963), Brigid (1964), and Jean Marie (1966).

In popular cultureEdit

Kranz has appeared as a character in several dramatizations of the Apollo program. He is played by Ed Harris in the 1995 film Apollo 13, who received an Oscar nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role. Matt Frewer portrays him in the 1996 TV movie Apollo 11. He is portrayed by Dan Butler in the 1998 HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.

Kranz has also been featured in several documentaries using NASA film archives, including the 2004 History Channel production Failure Is Not an Option and its 2005 follow-up Beyond the Moon: Failure Is Not an Option 2, recurring History Channel broadcasts based on the book The Right Stuff, and the 2008 Discovery Channel production When We Left Earth.

The independent video game Kerbal Space Program features a non-playable flight controller named Gene Kerman, who has a flattop haircut and white vest.

An archive audio clip including Kranz's name is included in the track "Go!" on the 2015 Public Service Broadcasting album, The Race for Space, a track inspired by the Apollo 11 moon landing.

"Failure is not an option"Edit

Kranz has become associated with the phrase "failure is not an option". It was uttered by actor Ed Harris, playing Kranz, in the 1995 film Apollo 13. Kranz then used it as the title of his 2000 autobiography. Later it became the title of a 2004 television documentary about NASA, as well as of that documentary's sequel, Beyond the Moon: Failure Is Not an Option 2. Since then, it has entered general parlance as a motivational phrase. Kranz travels all over the world giving a motivational lecture titled "Failure Is Not an Option", including the historic Apollo 13 flight control room.[5]

"Failure is not an option" was in fact coined by Bill Broyles, one of the screenwriters of Apollo 13, based on a similar statement made not by Kranz, but another member of the Apollo 13 mission control crew, FDO Flight Controller Jerry Bostick. According to Bostick:[6] Template:Quotation

Kranz chose it as the title of his 2000 autobiography because he liked the way the line reflected the attitude of mission control.[7] In the book, he states, "a creed that we [NASA's Mission Control Center] all lived by: 'Failure is not an option'", though the book does not indicate that the phrase is apocryphal.

Teams, "the human factor" and "the right stuff"Edit

Kranz was the leader of the "white team", a shift at mission control that contributed to saving the Apollo 13 astronauts. Though Apollo 13 did not achieve its main objective, to Kranz its astronauts' rescue is an example of the "human factor" born out of the 1960s space race. According to Kranz, this factor is what is largely responsible for helping put America on the Moon in only a decade. The blend of young intelligent minds working day in and day out by sheer willpower yielded "the right stuff."

Gene Kranz had this to say about the "human factor": Template:Quotation According to him, a few organized examples of this factor included Grumman—who developed the Apollo Lunar Module—North American Aviation, and the Lockheed Corporation. After the excitement of the 1960s, these companies dissolved into corporate mergings, such as happened when Lockheed became Lockheed Martin. Another example of the "human factor" was the ingenuity and hard work by teams that developed the emergency plans and sequences as new problems arose during the Apollo 13 mission.

Gene Kranz

Gene Kranz, uncharacteristically wearing a dark vest (probably during a training drill) (NASA picture)

"The Kranz Dictum"Edit

Kranz called a meeting of his branch and flight control team on the Monday morning following the Apollo 1 disaster that killed Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. Kranz made the following address to the gathering (The Kranz Dictum), in which his expression of values and admonishments for future spaceflight are his legacy to NASA: Template:Quotation

After the Space Shuttle Columbia accident in 2003, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe quoted this speech in a discussion about what changes should be made in response to the disaster. Referring to the words "tough and competent," he said, "These words are the price of admission to the ranks of NASA and we should adopt it that way."

Feelings about life after the MoonEdit

Kranz felt that much of the "human factor" dried up after the Moon landings, particularly due to the nation seeing the Moon landings as a short-term goal against the Russians – and not much more. When asked in spring 2000 if NASA is still the same place today compared to the years of the space race, he replied: Template:Quotation

However, in his book Failure Is Not an Option, he also expressed disappointment that support for space exploration dried up after the Apollo program—indeed, the last three Apollo flights were cancelled. His vision for renewing the space program includes: Template:Quotation


  • American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics: Lawrence Sperry Award, 1967
  • Saint Louis University: Alumni Merit Award, 1968; Founders Award, 1993; Honorary Doctor of Science, 2015
  • NASA Exceptional Service Medal - 1969 and 1970
  • Presidential Medal of Freedom - 1970
  • Downtown Jaycees of Washington D.C. Arthur S. Fleming Award - One of ten outstanding young men in government service in 1970
  • NASA Distinguished Service Medal - 1970, 1982, and 1988
  • NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal - 1973, 1993
  • NASA SES Meritorious Executive - 1980, 1985 and 1992
  • American Astronautical Society: AAS Fellow, 1982; Spaceflight Award 1987
  • Robert R. Gilruth Award, 1988, North Galveston County Jaycees
  • The National Space Club; Astronautics Engineer of the Year Award, 1992
  • Theodore Von Karman Lectureship, 1994
  • Recipient of the 1995 History of Aviation Award for the "Safe return of the Apollo 13 Crew," Hawthorne, California
  • Honorary Doctor of Engineering Degree from the Milwaukee School of Engineering, 1996
  • Louis Bauer Lecturer, Aerospace Medical Association, 2000
  • Selected for "2004 and 2006 Gathering of Eagles" honoring Aerospace and Aviation Pioneers at the Air Force Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell AFB, Alabama
  • John Glenn Lecture, Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, 2005
  • Lloyd Nolen, Lifetime Achievement in Aviation Award, 2005
  • Wright Brothers Lecture — Wright Patterson AFB, 2006
  • NASA Ambassador of Exploration, 2006
  • Rotary National Award for Space Achievement's National Space Trophy, 2007
  • Air Force ROTC Distinguished Alumni Award, 2014
  • National Aviation Hall of Fame, 2015[8]
  • Honorary Doctorate of Science from Saint Louis University, 2015
  • Great American Award, The All-American Boys Chorus, 2015



External linksEdit


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