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Flight: My Life in Mission Control Hardcover – March 1, 2001

4.6 out of 5 stars 86 customer reviews

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On July 20, 1969, near the end of a great decade of near-space exploration, a small craft called Eagle landed on the moon's surface. As anyone who watched the televised broadcast of the landing might recall, the astronauts aboard Eagle were guided to their objective by a capable ground crew headed by Chris Kraft, whom his colleagues had long called "Flight." Kraft was unflappable on the surface, but, as he writes in this memoir, the Eagle's landing had moments of drama that gave him pause, and that few outside NASA knew about--including baleful alarms from the ship's on-board computer that warned of imminent disaster.

For Kraft, frightening moments were part of his job as director of Mission Control. He encountered many of them in the early years of the space program, when failures were commonplace and all too often caused not by mechanics but by politics. We learn of many in Kraft's pages. One such failure was the Soviet Union's Sputnik launch, about which Kraft thunders, "We should have beaten them.... We were stopped by anonymous doctors in the civilian world who didn't know what they were talking about, by a bureaucrat in the White House who'd been stung when JFK shot down his position on manned space flight, and by our friend the German rocket scientist, who got cold feet when he should have been bold."

Plenty of other contemporaries, including John Glenn and Richard Nixon, come in for a scolding in Kraft's fiery account, which offers a rare insider's portrait of the challenging work of astronautics--work that, Kraft writes hopefully, is only beginning. --Gregory McNamee

From Booklist

Besides the astronauts, Kraft was one of NASA's best-known personalities in the agency's heroic decade of the 1960s, once making the cover of Time. The blunt-speaking demeanor that made Kraft popular with the press is fully present in his memoir, in which he lets fly about various instances of his dissatisfaction with the performance of an astronaut, engineer, or contractor. Such dirty-laundry airing, verboten at the time by the publicity-conscious NASA, is one reason for space-history buffs to flock to Kraft's narrative, but the principal attraction is how he ramped up from scratch the flight control operation for Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. When Sputnik beeped the U.S. into a panic, Kraft was an engineer at the obscure National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), quickly revamped as NASA. Tapped by the unsung organizer of manned flight, Robert Gilruth, to establish what became Mission Control, Kraft directed the early flights, whose participants he critiques by his lights as a no-nonsense engineer. His key role and frankness of recollection make Kraft a worthy memoirist of pioneering space flight. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 370 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult (March 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525945717
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525945710
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #218,767 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John R. Keller on March 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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By A Customer on March 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover
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.
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