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Featured Excerpt
Each month, a brief excerpt from a space pioneer's oral history will be featured on this page. This is the excerpt for June 2017:
Eugene (Gene) Kranz was directly involved with Mission Control for the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo flights. He progressed from procedures officer at Cape Canaveral to flight director at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston. He was a flight director for Apollo 11, the first manned Moon landing, and was lead flight director for Apollo 13, a manned lunar mission that suffered a crippling explosion on the way to the Moon but was brought safely back to Earth. Kranz, a major figure in the popular 1995 movie Apollo 13, was portrayed by actor Ed Harris.... Kranz was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame in 2012.

        There were two types of people in the program at that time. There were those people who I would equate to Cold War warriors. These were the people who recognized the early challenges the Soviet Union had given us. And myself, personally, I had seen the Russian MiGs flying the other side of the DMZ when I was over in Korea. So to me it was a question of, just for our own national security, to rise to the challenge that President Kennedy gave us and to defeat the Soviets in this thing which was called the space race. There was another group of much younger people, fresh out of college, who saw this as the dream mission, the opportunity of a lifetime. They did it principally because of the challenge. So there two discretely different frames of mind as we continued to go forward in the program, and particularly as we had to meet certain milestones.
        What was interesting was our knowledge of what the Soviets were doing. We had a book where they would put all of the newspaper clippings and the headlines from the newspapers. Once a week, they would pass this book around to us so we could see what our competitors, the Russians, were doing. At the working level that I was at, and I believe up at the levels above me, we had no direct intelligence on what the Soviet Union was doing. But the real challenge was one of winning the space race for the Cold War warriors, and winning the space race principally as a result of the technical challenge that we faced. Two different approaches to doing the job.
        There was an enormous amount of frustration because every time you'd go home at night, you would see a newspaper article that basically would cite the Soviet triumphs and our failures. It was this kind of a relationship that the media was building within the country. When are we going to catch up? When are we going to set our own American space records? Alan Shepard's launch, I think, sort of tempered that almost antagonism for a period of time. It was the launch of John Glenn [America's first manned orbital flight] that really caused this entire approach from the media to become much more positive of the work we were doing. The John Glenn flight, I think, did many things, but in particular, it gave the people of the Space Task Group the confidence that we were moving in the right direction. And we had "the right stuff." 




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Space Pioneers in Their Own Words