Chris Kraft, NASA’s first flight director, ‘a national treasure,’ dead at 95

This July 5, 2011, file photo shows NASA Mission Control founder Chris Kraft in the old Mission Control at Johnson Space Center in Houston. Kraft died Monday, July 22, 2019, at the age of 95.
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This July 5, 2011, file photo shows NASA Mission Control founder Chris Kraft in the old Mission Control at Johnson Space Center in Houston. Kraft died Monday, July 22, 2019, at the age of 95.

NASA's first flight director, the legendary Christopher Columbus Kraft Jr., died Monday in Houston at the age of 95.

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Although he never flew in space, Kraft was one of NASA's first employees and was instrumental in creating the U.S. space program. He managed all the Mercury missions and some of the Gemini flights, according to NPR. He was the senior planner during the Apollo lunar missions and later led the Johnson Space Center. He also managed the development of the space shuttle program.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine called Kraft “a national treasure,” noting that Kraft was flight director during some of the most iconic moments in space history, including as “humans first orbited the Earth and stepped outside of an orbiting spacecraft.”

"We stand on his shoulders as we reach deeper into the solar system," Bridenstine said.

NASA credits Kraft with creating the concept of Mission Control during the early human spaceflight program.

The first man to walk on the moon, astronaut Neil Armstrong, once called him "the man who was the 'Control' in Mission Control," The Associated Press reported.

"From the moment the mission starts until the moment the crew is safe on board a recovery ship, I'm in charge," Kraft wrote in his 2002 book "Flight: My Life in Mission Control."

“No one can overrule me. ... They can fire me after it's over. But while the mission is under way, I'm Flight. And Flight is God,” he said.

Kraft died just two days after the 50th anniversary of arguably his and NASA’s greatest achievement: The Apollo 11 moon mission that included the first lunar landing.

Christopher C. Kraft, Jr. 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.
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Christopher C. Kraft, Jr. 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.