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Flight: My Life in Mission Control is the feisty memoir of Chris Kraft, head of mission control ground crew on the famous Eagle mission of 1969. 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 programme, when failures were commonplace and all too often caused not by mechanics but politics. We learn of many in Kraft's pages. One such failure was the Soviet Union's Sputnik launch, on 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 fly-on-the-wall portrait of the challenging work of astronautics--work that, Kraft writes hopefully, is only beginning. --Gregory McNamee [via]