Gene Kranz may be the best known air traffic controller in NASA's history. He steered the actual landing section of the first mission to put men on the moon, Apollo 11, and led Mission Control to rescue the Apollo 13 crew after an oxygen tank exploded on the road to the moon surface.
Now, Kranz, 85, has made another commitment: The resumption of Mission Control at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The space where Kranz directed some of NASA's most historic missions, heralding US space exploration, was phased out in 1992. Since then, it has been a halt on guided tours of the space center but fallen into disrepair. Kranz has led to a $ 5 million multi-year effort to restore Mission Control in time for the 50th anniversary of the country's first moon landing on July 20.
"I went into that room last month for the first time when it was fully functional, and it was dynamite. I was literally crying," Kranz said in an interview with NPR. "The emotional surplus at that moment was incredible. I went down to the floor and when we did the band cut the last two days, believe it or not, I could hear the people talking in that room 50 years ago. Hear the controllers talking."
The room also took back memories of Kranz with a common sense of purpose.
"That group of people united in the pursuit of one thing, and basically the result was greater than the sum of the parts. There was a chemistry that was formed," Kranz said.
Sandra Tetley, Johnson Space Center's historic conservation officer, worked with entrepreneurs to carefully recreate the room, interview past air traffic controllers, and collect old photos. They cut sites like eBay to find things from the Apollo era – like cups, ashtrays and a coffee pot to fill the room.
"We also identified what was original color, and that was not original color, so we could make sure the original color was left," Tetley said. "We stamped all the tiles so that the whole pattern would match."
Kranz, played by actor Ed Harris in the 1995 film Apollo 13, said the room's significance extends beyond historical objects and artifacts. "[The room] also has a sentence related to the American psyche, that what America will dare, America will do, "he said.
Kranz said he wants his early space missions to challenge America's youth to study science, technology and technology and for the restored space to inspire teachers and students.
"There is a lot of future out there, and what you have to do is go out and grab it, break it to the ground, accept the challenges, and then decide," Kranz said. "You have the knowledge. You have the knowledge. You have love and you can move forward and make a good life for yourself."
It was life lessons Kranz says he learned in Mission Control.