59 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on March 9, 2001
While I really liked Gene Kranz's book on his experiences in Mission Control and felt that his was a five star book, Chris Kraft's book is orders of magnitude better. Chris Kraft describes in great detail his career at NASA, its predecessor NACA and all the people involved in setting up mission control and getting America to the Moon. He tells it like it was and he's not afraid to criticize (or praise) the many players within NASA and its contractors. Through out the book, the reader gets the impression that Kraft truly enjoyed his job, even with the 70 to 80 hour weeks, and believes in the dream of exploring the solar system and the universe.
The book begins with Kraft's childhood on the Virginia shores of the Atlantic and the factors that ultimately shaped his future. Due to a childhood accident he is unable to fight in World War II and instead ends up becoming an engineer at NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) helping to solve aerodynamic problems of many aircraft. At NACA he distinguishes himself by solving many complex flight problems, some of which are still used today. It is here that he meets many of the people who will become the driving force behind the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, such as Walt Williams and Bob Gilruth. Once the Russians launch Sputnik, he becomes one of a select few of 36 people who form the Space Task Group. This group becomes the core of all manned space flight projects up to the Space Shuttle program. This group developed the Mercury capsule, mission control and selected the Original Seven astronauts. He becomes the Flight Director for the Mercury program and part of the Gemini program. As the space program expands, the group grows quite large and moves to Houston, TX to form the Manned Spacecraft Center (now the Johnson Space Center). Mid-way through the Gemini program he gives up his position as a Flight Director and worked on getting Apollo to the moon.
So much has been written about the Apollo missions to the Moon, that this book was a breath of fresh air. Approximately half of this book is devoted to the Mercury and Gemini programs and how these often ignored projects played an extremely important role in getting America to the Moon. This book is loaded many great nuggets about the space program and Kraft's life. For example, he helps subdue a hijacker, he's one of only a few that criticizes Wernher Von Braun (and not for his Nazi past) and several of the Original Mercury Seven Astronauts and tells how and why Neil Armstrong was selected to be the first man on the moon. But all in all, Kraft continually points out that it was teamwork that got the space program over many hurdles and to the moon. Those who were not non-team players, such as Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter, were eventually eased out of the program.
It is important to note that all the proceeds from this book go to a college scholarship fund for the children of Johnson Space Center employees.
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2001
I just read this book and being interested in space history was happy with the inside details that keep this from being another dry political history work. I was only dissapointed by one section. Chapter ten was a very emotional attack on astronaut Scott Carpenter's Mercury flight. I understand the authors upset at Scott Carpenters performance during the mission but he does cross the line into a bit of a vendetta mode against him. On page 173 he states "Scott Carpenter was our bad example. He had slipped through the process without a college degree and virtually no test pilot experiance." This is not accurate. NASA's own astronaut biography page shows he graduated in 1949 with a B.S. in aerospace engineering from The University of Colorado. He was a Naval officer and an aviator and they did not take non degreed candidates as pilots then in the Navy. No, he did not fly test planes but he was a pilot and that was not a trivial training regiment to get through. In addition NASA's qualifications for astronauts demanded a degree in science or engineering so how would he have squeeked past that check? Also he must have had something on the ball to have been selected for project Mercury over many other candidates. This is a good book but the attack here seems to be a personal trashing that does make you a bit suspicious of other passages that are not so easy to check out.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2001
Christopher Columbus Kraft, Jr., was one of the key players behind the beginnings of what was to become the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Through this book he details his experiences through NASA's predecessor, the NACA, where he and other engineers and technicians tested aircraft and flight hardware. Then he became one of the original members of the Space Task Group, which helped to organize America's first manned space efforts. It is clear through his retelling of this period that the STG's efforts to put the first human in space was truly a "crash program," and its members had to learn by doing. Kraft's work in designing mission control also was very important, becaue of course the mission control center has become the backbone of America's human spaceflight program ever since its beginnings. As the book continues, Kraft is candid and clear in the description of his involvement in the race to the moon-he describes his elation at Alan Shepard's fifteen minute suborbital flight, and his frustration at Scott Carpenter's subpar performance on the second Mercury orbital flight in May 1962. The book provides many of his experiences and thoughts in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs as NASA gained more experience in sending astronauts into orbit, and eventually as Neil A. Armstrong stepped from the lunar module Eagle and onto the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969. I've read both this book and Failure is Not An Option, by Apollo flight director Gene Kranz, and while both books are good, I think this one is better written and more candid.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on March 6, 2001
Anyone who is familiar with the numerous television documentaries about the early years at NASA knows about Chris Kraft. NASA's original flight controller, Kraft takes the reader on the journey of his amazing life story from a small town in Virginia to the top levels of management at NASA's Johnson Space Center. The reader will come away with an amazing appreciation for the contributions that Kraft gave to this nation as well as the numerous other unsung heroes that helped America get to the moon. As NASA's original flight conroller, Kraft was personally present for the most memorable moments in the history of space exploration including Alan Shepard's first trip into space in 1961 and John Glenn's historic orbital flight in 1962. Kraft takes the reader behind the scenes and shows what was really going on inside NASA that the public never knew about. The story he tells is amazing. The best part of this book is that Kraft acknowledges that the race to the moon was a team effort where everyone including managment, astronauts, mission control and contracters all contributed to this historic effort. Kraft was part of the story from the beginning and anyone interested in the least about the greatest story of the 20th century should and needs to read this fine book. It is well written, candid and an easy read.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2001
Some reviewers think this book a "diatribe," full of cheap shots at various important figures in the history of manned space-flight. For the most part, I disagree. This account of Kraft's life and career, especially the key roles he played in the manned space program from before Project Mercury through the end of Project Apollo, is blunt, readable(though poorly edited), informative and - above all - REFRESHING. It's refreshing precisely because it is so blunt(and, I think, honest)about many famous people. Kraft's sometimes vinegary remarks about this or that NASA icon is in sharp contrast to the usual saccharine sweet treatment these folks get in most other books on this subject(Walter Cunningham's being a conspicuous exception).
For example, although I greatly enjoyed Gene Kranz's memoir, FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION, I think he pulled some punches in evaluating a few people who really did not live up to their press notices. Scott Carpenter is the most famous of these characters. Although Kranz gives a riveting description of Carpenter's near disastrous Mercury flight which reveals the astronaut's shortcomings, he pussyfoots when it comes to a summary evaluation. According to Kranz, all the astronauts, including Carpenter, "...had the right stuff." Kraft, on the other hand, says very directly, that Carpenter was bad news, the one Mercury astronaut who definitely did NOT have the right stuff.
He is also unsparing in his judgement of many NASA doctors, contractors, and even Werner von Braun. Here, I believe, Kraft goes overboard, and lets his World War II hostility towards the German rocket designer continue into the '50's and '60's. He does give von Braun praise for the magnificent Saturn V, but finds many other occasions to belittle his role in the space program. Yet, perhaps the most important reason America won the space race was because von Braun's moon rocket worked and the Russian moon rocket didn't. Kraft ignores this fact.
Kraft's bluntness is unsparing of anyone, even flight control legend Gene Kranz(whose own book is worshipful towards Kraft)and drinking buddy Deke Slayton, one of the original Mercury astronauts and virtual dictator of the Astronaut Office. Though he is not shy about listing their faults, Kraft also makes clear his tremendous admiration for these men, and many others.
And despite(or, perhaps, because of) his gimlet eye, Kraft comes across as human, believable, even - in a crusty sort of way - likeable, not unlike Gene Kranz, in fact.
And - beyond his occasional dash of vinegar - I liked Kraft's honesty in telling us about his less than ideal childhood, his troubled father, and his cadet days at V.P.I.. I especially appreciate his description of his early career. He succeeds in giving readers with non-technical backgrounds a feel for what a flight-test engineer actually does.
Yes, I agree with those who criticize Kraft for mostly ignoring everything which happened after Apollo, but I still strongly recommend this book.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2002
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I picked up Chris Kraft's book "Flight" as I am an Apollo moon landing junkie and try to read all that is published on the topic. I had also seen Kraft in several interviews and I expected him to be candid about the program from the Mission control point of view. In that, I was not disappointed. He heaps praise on men he admired, in particular, his boss Bob Gilruth and astronaut Deke Slayton. He skewers others, like rocket genius Werner Von Braun, NASA bureaucrats, the Congress, President Nixon, the people who made the movie "Apollo 13", the American people (for apathy about the space program after the Apollo 11 landing), John Glenn and most particularly Scott Carpenter, an original Mercury astronaut who, in no uncertain terms, is not on Kraft's Christmas card list.
I felt Kraft's description of his childhood, college education at Virginia Tech and his early life as an aeronautical engineer was very well done. He also does a great job in describing the start of the Mercury program and the many tests that needed to be done to get Americans into space.
What is disappointing is that this detail starts to tail off when he begins to describe the Gemini program and it surprisingly is more sparse when it comes to the Apollo program, which is the program I am most interested about. He glosses over the Apollo 12, 14 and 16 missions, covering them in about one page each. Even the historic Apollo 11 mission is only covered in a few pages as is the problems with Apollo 13. It seems like Kraft had a page limit requirement and decided to wrap it up quick, but at the expense of not going into detail about the Apollo missions. It takes away from the overall rating of the book, but it is a must for Apollo mission fans as this book is much better than Gene Kranz's rambling book about his experiences in Mission Control.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2001
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
The short summary - buy this book if you were around and interested in the early years of the space program. It is well written and makes you glad guys like Chris Kraft were there.
The good - Kraft is a straight shooter about the early days of Project Mercury. You may not agree with his honest and sometimes brutal characterizations, but unlike most of the wide-eyed, content-free pabulum written on this subject, he tells you exactly what he thought.
The better - There's a clear undercurrent of reflection and regret about his choices about his family throughout the book. At the same time he made a conscious decision that his job was more important than family. To be honest, given his personality of relentless execution, process and discipline it was interesting to hear and undercurrent of some wistful remorse.
The bad - The issue of less than honest disclosure by NASA is one of Kraft's legacies. While Kraft is unflinching honest in his personnel characterizations, he is still dodging some of the original cover-ups that he and NASA perpetuated. As "Flight" he was first to know that Space motion sickness (SMS) was a widespread phenomenon during Apollo and more than likely earlier in Gemini. Yet for years any inkling that half of our astronauts were throwing up during the first few days of zero g was simply covered up to the general public. His antipathy to doctors makes it pretty clear that he wasn't going to let "them" embarrass his boys. Second, when the Air Force cancelled its Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) a few of the department of defense experiments got shifted to Gemini. 35 years after the fact and not a mention. Three decades later NASA withheld the on-orbit flight log Bill Shepard of the Expedition One crew - a log he meant to be shared in real-time - all because of some unflattering comments Shepard made about - you guessed it - Mission Control. It wasn't until Bill landed that NASA released a heavily redacted version that made the log look like something out of the Soviet space progam circa 1965.
The insight that this book provides is that NASA's long dysfunctional PR organization and culture can be traced back to Kraft's engineering mentality and thin skin about press people who didn't "get it." Yet no one in the agency ever understood that this myopic view of the public's interest is what has drained enthusiasm from the program.
The worse - Incredibly Kraft's ten years when he took over Gilruths job, as director of the Manned Spacecraft Center doesn't warrant more than two pages. Given that some hold him responsible for canceling the last 4 Apollo flights and dismantling the programs he had worked on, you can understand his reticence. He does manages to blame Congress and the American people, which makes his lack of personal introspection about his role and decisions ever the more suspect.
Summary: this book is one of the better "I was there" books about the space program. Buy it.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2002
One may ask, as I did, why bother to read this book as well as Gene Kranz's, considering that both were Apollo flight controllers. Well, there's a simple answer to that: each person on Apollo had an individual perspective. In this case, Chris Kraft was earlier on the scene than Kranz and ended up consistently one notch higher on the totem pole, so his issues and stories are significantly different from that of Kranz's.
After a brief introduction (focusing on chimpanzee Ham's flight, of all things), the book proceeds in chronological order, spending a significant amount of time (too much, in my opinion) on Kraft's early life. There is an interesting bit, though, in which Kraft and his team argue the fitness of an airplane with a Marine named John Glenn, with whom Kraft does not immediately hit it off. Eventually, though, he arrives at Langley, and also eventually, he gets drawn into Project Mercury under the brilliant Bob Gilruth (now there's a guy who should write a book!).
He has a unique perspective, dealing more closely with the astronauts than Kranz and providing his frank opinions: Glenn was always a politician, looking to negotiate a flight rather than to earn one, and Carpenter never dedicated himself, screwing up his reentry once he finally flew, and Kraft vows he'll never fly again.
The higher-level perspective gives one a feel for the overall organization in a way I haven't encountered in any of the other memoirs. Kraft has to deal with the contractors - McDonnell Douglas, then North American and Grumman - the various NASA centers, and NASA headquarters. Von Braun, often considered the hero of Apollo, is off to the side, providing the boosters rather than the core expertise, though Kraft makes it clear that the Saturn V is a brilliant achievement. He had mixed words on George Mueller from NASA headquarters, who on the one hand started imposing a huge bureaucracy on Apollo but also made the brilliant and vital decision to do all-up testing on the Saturn booster, testing the entire system at once rather than piece-by-piece.
He also indicates that Apollo started up almost separately from Mercury and Gemini, and relates his frustration at the Apollo personnel not taking in the hard-learned lessons from those projects.
Most of all, though, Kraft both appreciates and leads the reader to understand just how much was accomplished in how brief a time: in 1959 we had scarcely put unmanned spacecraft in orbit. Ten years later, men had walked on the moon. That's a stunning achievement, and it's thanks to men like Kraft that we managed to do it.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2001
Chris Kraft has a unique perspective with regards to the US space program in that he got in on the ground floor. The early chapters tell his story of studying to become an engineer, designing planes for WWII, and falling into the company of those who would eventually build NASA into the agency that dominated American life in the 1960's. Unlike some of the books written by the Astronauts, this one provides a "bottoms up" account of the exciting stuggle NASA had on its hands to fulfill JFK's pledge of a safe manned Moon landing by the end of the decade. There have been many books written about the glorious Apollo missions, so I found the time devoted to the Mercury and Gemini missions particularly enlightening. As flight director for those missions, nothing got by Kraft, and he vividly recounts his experiences in text that while technical at times, flows seamlessly thoughtout. For anyone who wants an overview of NASA from the late 1950's until the last Apollo flight, this might be the book for you.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
I must have two dozen book on the history of the US space program, and they're all pretty good on one aspect or another of the program. There have been books written by insiders- indeed, a great many of the astronauts have written books of varying quality- but they tend to be narrow infocus, covering only a part of the program, or a single misison, like Lovell's "Apollo 13". And there have been books by outsiders, but even the best of them- like Charles Murray's "Apollo"- only go so far in giving the reader a sense of what it was really like, working in a group that was essentially inventing the space program from scratch.
Chris Kraft's book is different in a couple of ways. He was one of the very few people in the program who was there at the very beginning, all the way through Apollo, and he is one of the few who worked at every level of the organization, from low level engineer to director. He's as technically sophisticated as anyone who's ever written about the space program, and he's not shy about telling what he thought of people. He alternately praises and condemns, sometimes when speaking of the same person. He's generous with the priase for those he considered the great minds of space flight, like Gilruth and Faget. Even when criticizing, he's not unwilling to give credit where credit is due, even to those people, like von Braun, whom he had a strong dislike for, or Glenn, whom he thought acheived his position in the space program more from politics and self-promotion than from any ability as a test pilot.
While many of these stories have been told before, Kraft's telling has a level of personal detail that isn't to be found in any other book. Not surprising, as he was central to so many of the decisions. Anyone with an interest in the space program has probably read about Scott Carpenter's screwup in his one and only mission, but as Kraft tells it, there's a lot more to the story. He goes into some detail on the events leading up to Carpenter's flight, and in the end gives Carpenter credit for his willingness to take responsibility for his actions. Certainly much of it is self serving; there's a certain posessiveness of the entire space program apparant, and when Kraft praises the work of the men he trained he's giving himself quite a pat on the back at the same time. And sometimes he seems to be suggesting that he was the only person in the room, or in the entire program, who had the right answers. His dislike for von Braun seems to stem not only from von Braun's arrogance as from the credit von Braun was typically given in the press, who portrayed him as the architect of the entire space program, and not just its booster rockets.
But even given these faults, this is still one of the best books to date on the US space program. Certainly it's one of a very few books that I would consider an absolute must for the library of any fan of space travel.