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Historic NASA flight director Christopher Columbus Kraft, Jr. dies at age 95

By Christian Long
Christopher Columbus Kraft, Jr

Christopher Columbus Kraft, Jr., a legendary figure who was on-duty during some of the most important milestones in NASA's history, has died at the age of 95. 

Kraft was not only NASA's first flight director, but he created the role, and was instrumental for such historic missions as America's first manned spaceflight, the first manned orbital flight, and the first spacewalk. His highly disciplined style became the metric for how missions are conducted from the ground, even long after he retired. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine praised his legacy in a statement, calling Kraft "a national treasure" and "one of NASA's earliest pioneers."

"Chris was one of the core team members that helped our nation put humans in space and on the Moon, and his legacy is immeasurable," he said.

Kraft's career in space travel predates NASA itself, beginning with National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics shortly after his graduation from Virginia Tech in 1944. Almost 15 years later, he was assigned to the Space Task Force, which is when he created the role of flight director. He stayed in that position throughout the Mercury and Gemini missions. 

By the time the Apollo program kicked up in 1969, Kraft moved from flight director to focus on the planning and management of missions. Three years later, he became the director of the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas, which was later renamed the Johnson Space Center. He held that position until he retired a decade later. Today, the Mission Control center bears his name. 

Kraft is also quoted in the Bridentstine's statement, where he likened his old job to that of a musical conductor: "The conductor can't play all the instruments — he may not even be able to play any one of them. But, he knows when the first violin should be playing, and he knows when the trumpets should be loud or soft, and when the drummer should be drumming. He mixes all this up and out comes music. That's what we do here."

(via CBS News)