Land on the moon? Let’s live on the moon, says former NASA flight director Gene Kranz

July 9, 2019

NASA Flight Director Eugene F. Kranz, third from left, listens during a press conference in 1966. Kranz, alongside dozens of NASA engineers and administration, directed the NASA Gemini and Apollo space missions, including the first lunar landing mission of Apollo 11. July 20, 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Photo by NASA.

(Editor's Note: This story is part of The Texas Catholic Herald's issue marking Apollo 11's 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Click here to check out the rest of the issue.)

HOUSTON — Upcoming space travel plans need to include living on the moon, similar to scientific habitats in the Arctic and Antarctica, said Gene Kranz, NASA’s former flight director.

“I believe we need a habitat on the moon just like we have scientists living at the North and South Poles,” Kranz said. “The challenge of a long-term facility and learning to use the resources of the moon is needed for scientific and economic objectives, not political reasons. It needs to be a world project.”

At age 85, Kranz remains a very busy man. During his 34 years with NASA, he directed the Gemini and Apollo programs, including the first lunar landing mission of Apollo 11. Now Kranz has been at the forefront of celebrating the 50th anniversary of man’s touchdown on the moon on July 20, 1969. 

Speaking to multiple community and business groups, including the Archdiocese’s Prayer Breakfast on July 30 at 7:30 a.m. at the Marriott Marquis Houston and Johnson Space Center events, Kranz has shared his experiences in making history and dreams for the future.

Asked whether he ever wished that he’d flown into space himself, the aerospace engineer and retired fighter pilot said, “In the very early days of the Mercury program, astronauts would be limited to doing one or two missions. I’ve been involved, in various capacities, with 100” up through the Shuttle missions.

In a Space Foundation survey in 2010, Kranz was listed second among space heroes who inspired the public, only behind number one pick astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first human to set foot on the moon. Kranz may be best known for directing NASA’s Mission Control efforts in 1970 to successfully save the crew of Apollo 13 after the capsule suffered an explosion while en route back to the moon.

“Houston, we’ve had a problem here,” is the actual quote from astronaut Jack Swigert. For the next three nail-biting days, flight director Kranz and his team figured out how to fix that problem.

Kranz said, “We pulled off a miracle in Apollo 13. We should never have been able to solve all the problems we faced. But it was that culture of the people that would never surrender. They would find a way. It was trust between the crew in the spacecraft and myself and my team.”

A day after the Apollo 13 crew landed, Kranz and his team along with the astronauts, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for their work.

Ron Howard’s 1995 film Apollo 13, starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise and Ed Harris resurrected the legend. Kranz was portrayed by Harris sporting a crew cut and Kranz’ signature vests sewn by his wife Marta. Harris earned an Oscar nomination and won the Screen Actors Guild Award for best supporting actor.

“I think Ed Harris did a great job in portraying the challenge, intensity and complexity of not only my work, but of all the individual controllers on the team,” Kranz said. “It wasn’t about me; it was about the teams and the people in Mission Control. We truly believed that, in our line of work, failure is never an option.”

The Dickinson resident, living only a few miles from the Johnson Space Center with his wife Marta, is a devout Catholic and longtime member of the Knights of Columbus Father Roach Council 3217. Kranz said he credits his teachers and religious sisters at Central Catholic High School in Toledo, Ohio, for giving him a strong foundation of education, enthusiasm and skills necessary to be successful in his NASA career.

“It involves team-building and respect that goes both ways,” Kranz said. “Integrity is really the driver.”

In discussing current plans to send astronauts back to the moon by 2024 and Mars in the 2030s, Kranz said, “We have a marvelous array of technology and a gifted group of young trained individuals. What we need is leadership and support from the top.”

For more information and to purchase tickets to the 2019 Archdiocean Prayer Breakfast, which will feature Gene Kranz as the keynote speaker, visit www.archgh.org/prayerbreakfast.