NASA’s First Flight Director

Chris Kraft assesses the state of the space program 40 years after Apollo

Kraft in Mission Control in July 1965. (NASA)
Air & Space Magazine

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Kraft: Yes. I think that it's a matter of learning to live on the moon—I don’t know how long that takes, maybe not very long—but having lived on the moon when you’re only three seconds away in communication, compared to 40 minutes at Mars. That’s a hell of a difference. I just don’t think we’re ready to go to Mars until we come up with a lot more technology than we have today. And hopefully NASA will get a chance to work on that in the next 10 years.

A & S: What do you think is the most promising path for NASA to follow today?

Kraft: I think they should stay the course and keep the Constellation program going. I’m very disappointed that the space shuttle is being terminated. I think it’s still a fantastic vehicle. I think it still has tremendous potential for flying people and maintaining the space station, and for carrying people into low-Earth orbit, regardless of how much people think that it’s a high-risk vehicle. I don’t agree with that statement. I think it’s the most safe vehicle this country has ever built, and it could continue to be if supported.

A & S: Do you think rockets like Atlas and Delta could be the answer to NASA’s future heavy lift needs?

Kraft: No, I think that building a new vehicle on the basis of the technology we have and can develop for a heavy lift launch vehicle is the better way to go. Those [existing] vehicles are fine for doing certain jobs, but I don’t think they have the heavy lift launch capability. For lighter loads, I think it is possible that the Atlas and the Delta vehicles could be man-rated, which they’d have to be to carry humans into space. However, their performance is not what people say it is. I think that the Ares vehicle was built to have better performance than either one of those vehicles, and given the right kind of technical and financial support would be a vehicle that could do a yeoman’s job for carrying things into low-Earth orbit. And probably very reliably in the future.

A & S: Is there still a role for humans in space exploration?

Kraft: Of course there is. Humans want to go to other worlds. They want to explore. They want to find out if there really are people living in other galaxies, or even in this galaxy. And some day, as many have said, we’re going to get a message from one of those planets that exist out there like the Earth, and that will really change the way people think about space.

A & S: If you had the money to spend, would you take a ride on a [Russian] Soyuz to the space station?

Kraft: No, I would not. I guess the launch wouldn’t be too bad because it’s four Gs. But coming back at nine Gs [in an abnormal ballistic reentry] is not my cup of tea. I think it takes trained people to enjoy that ride. So, no thank you.

A & S: How about an orbital flight on the first crewed SpaceX rocket, Falcon 9?

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