formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

September 7, 2010 Gene Kranz

The Liberty Gazette
September 7, 2010

Mike: Old acquaintances greeted one another, catching up on the latest flying and airplane building adventures as airplanes filled the ramp and cars packed the parking lot at West Houston Airport where a large audience gathered to hear first-hand from one of the heroes of an incredible event that captured the world’s attention for several days in April, 1970.

Gene Kranz was the NASA Flight Director of Apollo 13, and our Guest of Honor and speaker at EAA Chapter 12’s 55th birthday celebration. The hamburger lunch, cooked and served by fellow chapter members, was generously provided by folks from the Austin Planetarium, who had on display a large portable planetarium – probably a good topic for another week in this space. Dessert, a couple of sheet cakes, was polished off in no time.

Gene opened with a pitch to see if anyone wanted a couple cans of Poly Brush and some aircraft wheel pants he’d been trying to find a home for and he felt that someone in the crowd just might need them. The Poly Brush, used in the coating process of fabric covered wings, wound up in the hands of Lance Borden and will be used as he recovers his 1929 Inland Sport biplane, a plane flown in races years ago by several pilots, including Marty Bowman when she won third place in the 1931women’s National Air Derby, the same cross-country race Linda races, now called Air Race Classic. Lance and Linda have an idea cooking that involves a future air race and that Inland Sport.

Gene’s book, “Failure is Not an Option,” was the subject of his talk: of getting the crew of the crippled Apollo 13 spacecraft home alive. He had great praises for all those young 20- and 30-somethings he worked with at NASA to make all this happen, singling out several in the process to give the crowd a little background. At 38, Gene was the oldest person in the Flight Control room.

Linda: Gene is such a personable guy and his presentation, complete with historic slides, photos in a Power Point that were taken during the time of crisis, was smooth but not canned. I’m not sure how he did it, but he kept us all on the edges of our respective seats with suspense and emotion, even though we already know the story. Somehow, it’s just different hearing it firsthand. Gene spoke of leadership and teamwork, and never said, “I,” but focused on the team and other team members. He took us step by agonizing step through the intense days of the Apollo 13 mission, the problems, the solutions, the hopes and fears, and the total commitment of the entire team: that failure was not an option. I only noticed his cadence slowed once by extraneous distraction; being the father and grandfather of an all female crew, when the two-year old daughter of our friends, Bob Watkins and his wife, Aileen, a 747 pilot, strutted proudly back to her seat after a potty break, pigtails bobbing with every step, Gene was taken by the cuteness and stopped his speech for a grandfatherly chuckle and smile. In a break from history there was the Gene Kranz of today, with all that is behind him, a reminder that his story has purpose for future generations. A photo snapped afterward of Katalin on “Grandpa Gene’s” lap caught the essence of their instant bond.

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