The man who was Mission Control during the early days of NASA has written a fascinating autobiography called Flight, a book that takes us back to a time when space exploration was still a fledgling project. As one of the leaders of the army of pencil pushers that made the space program happen, Chris Kraft, the chief of flight operations for the moon launches who later became head of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, had a unique vantage point. Full of insight into the technical, political and familial aspects of putting a man into space, his book is a delight to read, a memoir that conjures up all the optimism and bravado of a younger America.
Flight begins in the Tidewater region of Virginia, where Christopher Columbus Kraft Jr. grew up a hard-working child of the Depression. He attended college at Virginia Tech, then took a job testing aircraft for the government, eventually joining a new organization called NASA. Kraft does a good job of conveying the intricacies, personalities, excitement and frustration that characterized a career with the organization. He is also surprisingly blunt, singling out some astronauts as incompetent, some as sycophants and some as cool and intelligent. He gives similar assessments of his coworkers; at this point in his life, he clearly has no reason to pull his punches.
Indeed, Kraft writes with honesty throughout Flight. He has little patience with bureaucracy, either governmental or scientific, and blames both for the delays that kept the United States from putting the first man into space, and for subsequent decisions that have kept us from returning to the moon for the past three decades. If Kraft had his way, America would have had a base on Mars years ago. Part of what makes his memoir a genuine and refreshing read is that Kraft doesn't spare himself from criticism. The three Apollo astronauts that perished in an on-pad fire clearly trouble him to this day. Yet, despite such bitter losses, he takes obvious pride in what he and his comrades accomplished. Kraft also seems to savor the title bestowed on him "Flight." Sometimes a mark of respect is all that we desire, and Chris Kraft certainly deserves the respect of us all.
James Neal Webb would hitch a ride on the Space Shuttle in a heartbeat.