The NASA heritage now spans over generations. The following articles and interview celebrate the legacy of three icons of NASA history and the daughters and sons who followed in their footsteps.
He took the torch: leadership lessons from my father – Gene Kranz
By Jeannie Kranz
Father does know best - Gene Kranz, famed NASA flight controller, with his family. His wife, Marta, is seated beside him and his children, standing from left to right, are Jeannie and siblings Lucy, Brigid, Carmen, Joan and Mark.
While legendary NASA Flight Controller Gene Kranz is best known for his coolness under fire in successfully directing our nation’s moon landings, a significant part of his legacy is the people inspired by his example to join the space program. Among them is his daughter Jeannie, and several of her siblings. In this essay, Jeannie writes about learning to strive for excellence from a NASA hero she knows best as “Dad.”
It was not until I joined the space program as a summer intern in 1984 that I really understood my father’s role in the space program or NASA’s importance to our nation. Now, 23 years after that internship, NASA has been a significant part of my career, and the lessons of Dad’s leadership are applied daily.
As I was growing up, all I knew was that dad worked for NASA, mom stayed home, I had five siblings, all older than me, four of them girls, and new clothes were a scarce commodity. My world was hand-me-downs and trying to keep pace with my older brother and sisters.
As “Dad,” not NASA’s “Gene Kranz,” he always was painstakingly organized, operated from a checklist for even simple “honey-dos,” embarrassed us kids with the way he dressed and was always a “play by the rules” kind of man. He was very engaged with us growing up; if the character role of Ward Cleaver was based on anyone real, it likely was my dad.
His daily routine consisted of a very methodical morning – breakfast, good day wishes to all the kids before school and the predictable statement to my mother as he kissed her walking out the door, “Have I told you I love you today?”
His drive into the office, in one of his “nice” automobiles, one of which was a wood-paneled yellow station wagon that rivaled that of Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Vacation, consisted of John Phillip Sousa’s march music playing loudly to pump him up for the day. When he arrived in the office, he played it in his office suite to torment all of his staff and ensure they were ready for battle, too. Young NASA employees frequently would ask the Kranz kids, “Is it true that your dad really …?” regarding the march music.
There was a strange fascination about dad and it was clear he had a following at NASA's Johnson Space Center. It was bizarre and seemed almost cult-like until I really understood it more. Though he was well-known for so many of his personality quirks, appearance and habits, I think, most importantly, he was a respected and admired leader, mentor and NASA advocate. And respect was earned from young engineers that he challenged on a daily basis to “aim high.” He knew they were the future and the legacy of the NASA leadership. Respect was earned from his colleagues that survived with him through tragedy, success and impossible odds. And respect was earned from his superiors, leaders like Dr. Chris Kraft who saw a passionate and fearless protégé who was not afraid to put his job on the line or respectfully disagree with their decisions.
Dad was all about the young people in the program, the future leaders who needed to be trained, and trained the right way. In his opinion, there was a wrong way to lead, and he wanted to make sure these soldiers of the high frontier were prepared for whatever tough, split-second decisions might come their way.
Glory days - The Kranz family during the Apollo program years. Pictured front row from left to right are Carmen, Mark, Jeannie, Lucy, Brigid, and cousin John Kittle; back row, Gene, Marta and cousin Joe Kittle.
After the Apollo 1 fire, he and others developed a charter, "Foundations of Mission Control." It was a contract or code of conduct, which in the NASA human spaceflight world was the closest thing to the Ten Commandments. Foundations very clearly spelled out the values, expectations and responsibilities that each and every employee in Mission Control was expected to understand, believe and live as a member of the NASA team.
As is the case with many others at NASA, I have a copy of Foundations on my bulletin board at United Space Alliance, where I am almost 10 years into my leadership role with the company. Foundations serves as a constant reminder of the traits of a competent and respected leader … one ultimately responsible for the outcome of their decisions. This is the kind of leader I aspire to be.
As I began my career, I was hired in 1984 as a summer intern at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. At this time the shuttle program was well under way.
Joining NASA as the boss’ kid had both professional and personal implications. Expectations were extremely high from all directions, and in some cases created significant hurdles that had to be overcome again and again.
The expectations of my coworkers and supervisor were high. I had to prove that I was not a nepotism hire. Every project or action was a challenge to accomplish by seeking to achieve as close to perfection as possible. It was a tough environment for a developing intern, but I was fortunate in some cases to have tremendous leaders and mentors who had confidence in me, and that was enough to help me succeed. Expectations from dad were high as well, because his kids were a visible example working in the ranks and he did not want anyone cutting us any slack. However, when things got tough, he was quick with some morale-building advice, such as “aw, sports fan, don’t let the turkeys get you down.”
The hardest expectations to meet were my own. As a Kranz child, we were genetically the toughest on ourselves, settling for nothing less then the very best. Failure was not an option well before the movie Apollo 13 made that phrase a common benchmark!
I followed this internship with another at NASA and then moved to the contractor world, Rockwell Space Operations Company.
My 1988 internship at Rockwell Space Operations Company was a turning point for my career. I was working at the time in Human Resources, and the manager of the Communications and Public Relations Department needed project support for a return to flight initiative that fall. I had never considered a job in public relations. I did not know much about the communications field, but after that internship I was hooked. That was what I wanted to do for the rest of my career, provided it was for NASA, the only thing I had a passion for and whose mission I believed in.
One of the most important things dad always told his kids when we were growing up was, “when you finally choose a career, find something you love to do. Job satisfaction is the key to your level of commitment and personal fulfillment.” I absolutely loved the work and the interaction with the public and the employees.
That fall, I stayed home to finish my degree and was hired full-time in early 1989 in the Communications and Public Relations Department. At the time, Dad was the director of mission operations at Johnson in charge of shuttle operations and overseeing the operations proposal for what was then going to be Space Station Freedom.
Despite all the fine people I have worked for, I can still say that dad is one of the best leaders I have known. Taught by the great leaders before him, he took the torch and led by example, passing on the lessons of leadership to his children and many others at NASA. Many of these people are now at the helm.
The lessons in a nutshell: Leadership means you take the responsibility. You don’t blame or make excuses. You must have integrity and tell the truth, despite the difficulty of sharing bad news. And in some cases, you ask permission later. Trust is key. You cannot accomplish anything without complete trust among the team – top to bottom! A strong work ethic means you stay until the job is done, and “adequate” is not a benchmark. You cannot accomplish great things with average goals. That belief is a constant reminder for the whole mission operations team with the statement “Res Gesta Per Excellentiam” or "Achievement through Excellence," incorporated in its logo. And finally, teamwork and leadership go hand-in-hand. You lead by example, you challenge your subordinates, you thoroughly train and prepare, you mentor, and above all, you win or lose as a team!
As every anniversary of the early programs come and go, those of us Kranz kids continuing our careers with NASA are left with the stories of heroic triumphs and hard lessons, some sadly experienced firsthand. As we await new triumphs and achievements, these lessons from dad and many other icons in NASA’s history serve as constant reminders to remain ever-vigilant in our work and to respect the environment in which we are operating. Spaceflight is hard and it is risky, but the achievements, the exploration of space, are worth the risk and sacrifice.
Dad and I talk weekly. He is my advisor, my mentor (one of many) and my leader. As I drive into work each morning, loudly playing one of my playlists from my iPod, getting my mind set for the day, I wonder if I do this because of genetics or whether it is a motivational tip I picked up from my leader.
A passion reborn: A flight director follows in his father’s epic footsteps.
By Catherine E. Ragin
Just because your father happens to be one of the most visible NASA icons does not mean you are destined to follow his lead. Despite Bryan Lunney’s independent search to find a career that would be fulfilling to him, the paths he took landed him in the space program, doing exactly as his father had done a generation before. During the STS-117 mission, Glynn Lunney watched his son with pride as Bryan orchestrated mission control landing activities as flight director.
Glynn, an employee at NASA since its foundation in 1958, was a flight director during the Gemini and Apollo programs. He was also on duty during historic events such as the Apollo 11 lunar ascent and the pivotal hours of the Apollo 13 crisis. At the end of Apollo, he managed the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, the first partnership between the United States and the Soviet Union. Glynn later served as manager of the Space Shuttle Program.
“Obviously, I grew up with a lot of NASA activity around the house and always did well in the math and science classes. So I knew I wanted to be an aerospace engineer during high school,” said Bryan, flight director at NASA's Johnson Space Center. “But I did not really commit to working at NASA, at least emotionally, until I was fortunate enough to get a summer job at Johnson between my junior and senior years in college. That job was in the Propulsion Systems Group in the Mission Operations Directorate, and everything about it really clicked for me.”
Glynn agrees that his son’s passion for NASA was of his own making.
“I have a hard time saying that he had targeted himself,” Glynn said. “Somewhere along the line, prior to going to college, Bryan began to focus in on taking aerospace engineering and coming to work here as his goal. And that is what he did.”
At the helm - Glynn Lunney, head of the Flight Directors Office, during an Apollo 14 preflight activity in 1971.
The unique father and son flight director combination was, in fact, a novelty within NASA that they were unaware of at first.
“Some years ago, when Bryan was selected as a flight director, it occurred to both of us that it was the first time that a father and son combination had served in that position at the center,” Glynn said. “To my knowledge it is still the only coupling of father and son on that job of flight director.”
Bryan is humble about their one-of-a-kind situation.
“I think maybe some other folks see it as more special than he and I do. We both are very proud of what the other has done. We are able to compare notes about some of the issues we have dealt with, and that can be fun sometimes. But mostly, we both feel extremely blessed to have found a job that suited us quite well, [and each of us is] extremely happy for the other,” Bryan said. “Perhaps that’s the genetics part of this equation.”
Genetics certainly may have something to do with it, because both father and son have similar, admirable attitudes toward exploring in space and the fierce sense of responsibility associated with the risks.
“There was an atmosphere of fear throughout the ‘60s,” Glynn said, “and it was actually the framework in which President Kennedy was so successful in kicking off the plan to go to the moon — a very bold, courageous goal, because it was done in eight or nine years from the time he announced it and we didn’t have the slightest idea of how we were going to do that.”
However, the bold vision Kennedy laid out worked, and it worked with astonishing success.
“We who were in the program were given this opportunity almost as steward – to take care of the space program venture that the country was on and to do our very best to make it come out well. I ended up having a sense that the success of it was riding on me personally, and I am sure that everybody felt the same way, that ‘I have to do the very best I can,’” Glynn said.
Bryan echoed his father’s words. “I believe we all feel a sense of ownership for our country’s manned spaceflight program. Everyone I work with consistently goes above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that everything possible is considered in order to ensure the safety of the crew and success of the mission.”
Glynn reflected that, as a child, Bryan did not yet understand the gravity of the exploration mission, nor how he contributed to NASA.
“I remember driving by the center with all of the kids in the car, and it was one of those father/child conversations about, ‘Gee, that’s the place where dad works …’ So I said, ‘What does your dad do over there?’ [And he said] ‘Well, he looks at TVs all day.’ [His] view of what we did in the control center. Bryan was probably about 5 to 6 years old at the time,” Glynn said.
With time, Bryan’s exposure to NASA grew the more he was surrounded with like-minded space enthusiasts. “During those days, dad would often invite folks over to our house for parties, particularly when the Soviets were in town. At one particular party, a young Soviet engineer brought a Soviet tank model as a gift,” Bryan said. “I was about 7 or 8 years old, and I got to assemble the tank during the party. The young engineer helped me with that assembly. During my travels to Moscow, I’ve learned that the man was Victor Blagov, a senior Russian flight director.”
Bryan, a father to three kids of his own now, understands the importance of following your dreams. He will not be pushing any of his own to perhaps become the third generation of Lunney flight directors but offers this philosophy instead.
“Just like my parents did, I will encourage my kids to find something they love and do that,” Bryan said. “My parents never steered me to NASA – just to do well in school and discover my own passions.” And while that is certainly a loving stance, NASA cannot help but hope that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree … again.
A Conversation with Astronaut G. David Low
By Edward S. Goldstein
Second generation - Flight Controller Bryan Lunney mans the console during a space shuttle mission.
One of the most unique father and son teams in NASA history is that of George Low, a key member of the management team that successfully led the Apollo lunar landing team and who briefly was acting NASA administrator at the time of the Apollo 14 mission, and his son G. David, a three-time shuttle astronaut and now an executive with Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Advanced Programs Group in Dulles, Va. In an August 2007 interview, G. David Low spoke about his father’s impact on his life and about his space experiences.
Q. You were born in 1956, a year before Sputnik. Do you have some early memories of the space program in which you realized, "hey, my dad is a part of this?"
A. Yes, I do, but actually, before I knew that my dad was a part of the space program, I knew that he was a volunteer fireman. For some reason for most kids being a fireman is kind of a special occupation.
I do remember when I was 7 years old, it was not long after John Kennedy had said we are going to the moon, that my dad said to me, “David, by the time you are 13 years old, we will have landed a man on the moon and returned him safely to Earth.”
And you know, at the time when you are a 7‑year‑old kid, your dad is just shy of God, and he can do no wrong, and he knows everything, but I remember riding my bike later on that day, looking up and seeing the moon and saying, “You know, he’s pretty smart, and I don’t think he’s lied to me yet, but that’s pretty wild to say we’re going to send people up there.” So that was really my first memory of knowing what he did, and as time went on, sure enough, he was right.
When you applied for the astronaut program, you mentioned that your dad used to take you into NASA's Johnson Space Center on weekends and to congressional hearings.
When I was younger, we lived in Nassau Bay, and it was not long after the Apollo fire that my dad took over the Apollo Spacecraft Program. He was working literally 90-hour weeks. The whole team was working those kinds of hours.
He’d get up in the morning and probably run, and then go into work. I remember many times, he’d come home, and we’d take him waterskiing for 20 minutes, he would eat dinner, and then go back to work. He’d be at work until 10 o’clock at night or so.
But on Saturdays when he’d go into work, occasionally he would take me with him, and we’d go into some of the different buildings around the Johnson Space Center, then called the Manned Spacecraft Center. In some of the buildings, they were doing hardware testing, and he’d let me see the hardware and talk to me a little bit about it.
I remember clearly going into his office and seeing a whole table full of wires and cables, pieces of hardware that had real use on Apollo. This was hardware that either had problems or they were trying to work things out with. I’d do that as much as I could; it was interesting to me.
People said about your father that he was no nonsense, that he was modest, that he never raised his voice. Can you talk a little bit about those qualities?
That sounds very much like him. I learned a lot from him just by watching him. I think he led by example as well at work. He worked very hard, and what I learned from that is you can accomplish a heck of a lot in your life just by working hard. That’s something I try to teach my kids as well.
He clearly was modest. He was a rather quiet man and low key. He was also the yardstick by which I measure all the good things about the qualities of a human being. He had the highest integrity and taught me about that before I understood what it was. He played games with words to help teach me what that was. On one family trip to our grandmother’s farm in upstate New York, he asked me to scramble the words “tiny tiger” into another word, and the word was “integrity.”
I remember on that trip, he explained to me what integrity was, and it clearly was something that meant a lot to him, and he instilled it in all his kids, me and my brothers and sisters. To this day, it’s a very, very important quality in my life.
Splashdown cigars - Manned Space Flight Center Deputy Director George M. Low (second from left) joins colleagues in celebrating the successful conclusion of the Gemini IX-A spaceflight on June 6, 1966. Pictured are left to right, Christopher Kraft, director of Flight Operations; Low; Dr. Robert Gilruth, Manned Space Flight Center director; and Lt. Gen. Leighton Davis, DoD manager of Manned Space Flight.
Your father had the bold idea to make Apollo 8 into a lunar flight when we had problems with development of the lunar module. NASA decided to go to the moon without the lunar module available to provide a backup engine. Did he ever talk to you about that and how momentous that decision was?
Later on. Not at the time. I remember when that happened, though. It was in the summer of 1968 when he came up with the idea while we were vacationing at a cabin on a lake in upstate New York. He didn’t talk to me about it at the time, what he was thinking, but I clearly remember him working hard and having telephone conversations and things like that while we were up there at the lake. Looking back, I think that was one of the gutsiest decisions ever made in the space program.
If you were to ask what have been the top three missions ever flown, Apollo 11 has got to be one of them. Apollo 8 has to be one of them. And I think STS‑1, the first shuttle mission, was also one of those because it was the first time we had ever flown a vehicle without flying it without humans in it first.
In many ways, we blew through new technology on STS-1 with the engines, with the thermal protection system and with the fly-by-wire control system. That was a pretty gutsy one, too, but Apollo 8 has to rank up there in the top three, if not number one.
What are your memories of Apollo 11?
I was a Boy Scout at the time, and I was at the Boy Scout National Jamboree in Farragut State Park, Idaho. They had a tent there, and they had a generator and a TV, and I remember being in that tent, watching Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.
My dad was down at the launch, and he was back in Houston for the rest of the flight, but like all other Americans, I was very, very proud and pretty amazed that these pictures that we were seeing were coming back from the moon.
There is something called the George Low Quality Award. Tell me about this award, what it’s for and what it means to you.
Well, it’s the Quality and Excellence Award that’s given out to contractors, both large business and small business contractors, for NASA who exhibit the highest standards of quality and excellence.
When I was an astronaut, NASA Administrator Dick Truly called me in about 1990 and told me that they were going to rename what was then known as the NASA Quality Award to the George Low Quality and Excellence Award.
Family business - David Low (far right) in his official crew portrait for his last shuttle mission, STS-57 (June, 1993). Low’s fellow crew members on the space shuttle Endeavour were (left to right) Peter Wisoff, Brian Duffy, Nancy Sherlock, Janice Voss and Ronald Grabe.
I can tell you from the Low family point of view that having my dad’s name associated with quality and excellence is a high honor. When we think back about my dad and how he approached life, having NASA’s highest quality and excellence award named after him is a great tribute to him, and I personally think it’s very fitting as well.
Here is a quote from your dad: “The whole program is based on the assumption that eventually man will participate in the entire program of scientific exploration, visiting perhaps the moon and the planets.” This was 1960. Your dad was a hardcore technical guy, but he was a visionary.
Oh, he was very much a visionary. That was probably one of his best traits. The way I describe him is that he could see around corners. It’s something that I aspire to, but I am not close. I don’t know anybody who can see around corners the way he could.
Wilmont Hess, the director of Science and Applications at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, said, “He is the person most responsible for the success of the Apollo program.”
I have heard several other people say that.
I believe there were just a handful of people that you can say if they weren’t there, where they were at that particular point in history, that we wouldn’t have gotten to the moon on time. None of those people, I believe, are astronauts. And as an astronaut, I think I can say that.
I’m not taking anything away from the Apollo 11 astronauts at all. They did a beautiful job, but if it hadn’t been those three astronauts, I believe the Astronaut Office had other guys.
What would you like to see in the next 50 years?
I would like to see us go back to the moon. It hasn’t been since I was a little kid, since John Kennedy said we are going to go to the moon, that we have truly been explorers, and this president said we are going to go to the moon, we are going to go to Mars and then we are going to go beyond. Our destiny is out there, and we are going to be an exploring nation.
I would like to see us really carry that out, but it’s difficult when you go through administration after administration. I mean, it’s going to span so many administrations, but it is exciting to do.
There are different reasons that people are motivated to go fly in space. Some people, clearly for science reasons, and that’s good. Other people, more for exploration reasons, because it’s new, it’s different, no one has ever done it before and there are questions as to what is out there.
I am much more on that side of things. I remember very clearly not long after I was selected to be an astronaut, they brought my class down to Florida. It was shortly before a Challenger mission in the summer of ‘84. We were down there at the astronaut beach house, and you could see Challenger out there on the launch pad. I remember turning to one of my new buddies, and I said, “You know, sometimes I think I was born 20 years too early or 20 years too late,” because 20 years before that time, we were explorers, and we were exploring the moon. At the time, I thought 20 years hence we’d be exploring again.
Now, I’ll take what I got. It was wonderful, and flying in space, like I said before, is beautiful, but if I had my choice, it would be to go explore. To me, that’s a bigger motivation than anything else. It goes back to being the 5‑year‑old kid and your eyes get this big when you go outside and you look up at the stars and you say, “What is that? What’s out there, and what’s behind that?” So it’s really that kind of motivation that I never really lost.
I’ve got three young kids right now. They’re probably about the right age to be thinking about Mars. I think it’s going to be their generation that’s going to do that.