Gene Kranz visits White Sands Test Facility
He still comes across as tough and competent, a hard won effort in the difficult arena of manned spaceflight. And when he talks, people still listen. Gene Kranz, NASA’s Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab Flight Director, visited White Sands Test Facility (WSTF) recently as part of the Apollo 16 40th Anniversary Commemoration Event. Kranz toured the facility’s historical areas, looked at the Apollo Command Module and the Lunar Module test articles and visited the Propulsion Test Office building where Shuttle pods are being decommissioned.
White Sands Test Facility was commissioned by NASA Headquarters July 06, 1962 for the Apollo missions, and began the first engine tests on September 22, 1964. Today WSTF is a premier facility for testing propulsion systems, materials, and components that are flown on spacecraft, and it provides world-class expertise in safe handling of oxygen and hydrogen systems.
“Reminds me of a military building,” noted Kranz as he walked through the waxed hallway to a meeting with Frank Benz, WSTF Site Manager. He then boarded a tour bus, and he signed his famous inscription on an inner door of the pod decommissioning area: “Failure is Not an Option!”
A definitive life moment for Kranz and his team of flight directors was the death of Chaffee, White, and Grissom in the Apollo 1 fire. “I never wanted to have that happen again --ever! It takes everyone to make a flight work,” said Kranz, NASA Apollo Flight Director, to an audience of WSTF personnel and guests. “It takes everyone to bring home a flight crew safely.”
Kranz is a man whose tough and competent character was clearly molded by early catastrophic events: death of a father when he was 7 years old; deaths of the Apollo 1 crew; three 1963-68 assassinations (President Kennedy who challenged NASA in the Race to the Moon, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy); and the Apollo 13 oxygen system explosion. Kranz rose strongly and courageously to his lead position as Flight Director. “Our word was law,” the presidential Medal of Freedom recipient said.
For his Apollo 13 return-the-crew safely analysis, Kranz believed that through teamwork it was possible to bring the crew and spacecraft home. “But there were so many different problems; it took a team of experts for each individual problem to come up with solutions.”
The solutions included several suppositions: The crew would die of the carbon dioxide poisoning; they would freeze to death; they would use up all the available battery power; a too-steep trajectory would cause them to bounce off the earth’s atmosphere upon reentry and continuously orbit earth forever; and then when that trajectory was reworked, there was concern that the parachutes wouldn’t open because of low batteries, and they would hit the ocean too hard.
“Then there was the announcement of a typhoon in the ocean landing area,” deadpanned Kranz.
One of the most dramatic 4 minutes before the crew entered the earth’s atmosphere was caused by the new trajectory developed by Kranz’s team. “Normally, it takes 3 minutes before radio re-contact. This one took 4 minutes, because of our re-calculations.”
“It was the sweetest victory smoke ever,” Kranz said of the tradition to light up celebratory cigars after a successful mission.
Kranz asked for questions from the audience. When none were forthcoming, he wanted to talk about the vests that his wife Marta made for him.
“So when your wife makes you something, guys, you wear it! Marta made me a special vest for each mission. I wore them as a symbol to bring the crew together. Since I was on the white team, all my vests were white. After the Apollo Missions ended, I tried to help my daughter raise funds for charity; I think we raised about $50. During Apollo 13
filming, I was asked to mail in the vest so they could duplicate it. How much to insure? $15,000! That white vest I wore during the Apollo 13 mission is now in the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian.”
Kranz has been married to Marta for 55 years, and they have 6 children. Kranz received a standing ovation at the end of his speech.
From the agenda of the Fellowship of Local Rocketry Enthusiasts (FLARE) and Science, Engineering and Math and Aerospace Academy (SEMAA) sponsors of the Apollo 16 40th Anniversary Commemoration Event.
Thursday, March 08, 2012
—Kranz toured Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range. He and Astronaut Charlie Duke spoke to an audience after a special showing of the movie Apollo 13
. Duke was the 10th human to walk on the moon during Apollo 16, 40 years ago. Michael Shinabery, NM History of Space Museum, moderated the presentation at Cineport 10, Las Cruces, NM.
Friday, March 09, 2012
—At the NMSU Pan Am Center, Duke and Kranz attended the student replica scale rocket launch. The event served as an education and outreach opportunity for over 600 sixth through eighth grade Science Engineering Mathematics and Aerospace Academy Students throughout southern New Mexico. NASA WSTF employees staffed science demonstrations and displayed models of Saturn V, Apollo ascent and descent test engines, large Apollo photos, small vernier thrusters, a Lunar Module test article ascent stage, and other artifacts.
Saturday, March 10, 2012
—At the New Mexico History of Space Museum in Alamogordo, Kranz was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame. He is the 154th inductee.
NASA WSTF Event Participants
John Bernal (Transportation)
David Martinez (Lunar Module Prototype Display)
Pete Munoz (Lunar Module Prototype Display)
Mickey Plemmons (Lunar Module Prototype Display)
Danny Hinojos (Lunar Module Prototype Display)
George Aldrich (WSTF science demonstrations)
Michelle Lewis (WSTF science demonstrations)
Bill Howard (WSTF science demonstrations)
Ben Luttrell (WSTF science demonstrations)
Cheerie Patneaude (WSTF events coordinator)
Robert Cort (NASA WSTF Public Affairs Officer)
Dave Hendon (Videographer/V-brick broadcast)
Jim Krupovage (V-brick broadcast)
George Alcantar (V-brick broadcast)
Jim Dawson (V-brick broadcast)
WSTF Tour Guides
Shannon Stevens (Transportation)
Dr. Harold Beeson (Materials and Components Laboratories Office)
Jon Haas (Materials and Components Laboratories Office)
Asher Lieberman (Propulsion Test Office)
Dave Baker (Propulsion Test Office)
Jeremy Bruggemann (Propulsion Test Office)
Kevin Farrah (Propulsion Test Office)
Lou Barrera (Propulsion Test Office)
Robert Kowalski (Propulsion Test Office)
Bldg. 310 OMS Pods Test Technicians and Test Conductors (Propulsion Test Office)
David Kovar (Apollo 16 40th Anniversary Commemoration Event Director
James W. Basler
Gloria M. Kindig
Laura Lomas Tomlinson (NASA SEMAA Assistant Director)
Ligia Ford (NASA SEMAA Assistant Director)
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Cheerie R. Patneaude
NASA JSC White Sands Test Facility