[Skip to Content]
Leadership Speaker Series
Analytical Insight, Global Leaders

Featured Speaker: Gene Kranz

Gene KranzGene Kranz

Legendary NASA Flight Control Director Who Led the
Effort to Save Apollo 13

Krannert Leadership 
Speakers Series
Keynote Speaker
September 25

Gene Kranz was born on August 17, 1933, in Toledo, Ohio, and received his BS degree in aeronautical engineering from Parks College of Saint Louis University in 1954.

He was commissioned in the US Air Force in 1954, and flew high-performance jet fighter aircraft, including the F-80, F-86, and the F-100. In 1958, he worked as a flight test engineer at Holloman AFB, New Mexico, for McDonnell Aircraft, developing the Quail Decoy Missile for the B-47 and B-52 aircraft. He was discharged from the Air Force Reserve as a captain in 1972.

In 1960, Kranz joined the NASA Space Task Group at Langley, Virginia, and was assigned as assistant flight director for Project Mercury. He assumed flight director duties for all Project Gemini Missions, and was the branch chief for Flight Control Operations.

Kranz was selected as division chief for Flight Control in 1968, and continued his duties as flight director for the Apollo Program. He was the flight director for many Apollo missions, including the Apollo 11 lunar landing, and he led the "Tiger Team" for the successful return of the Apollo 13 crew. “I don’t believe there was anyone in the audience who didn’t have 'goose bumps' after Gene Kranz described his harrowing day over 30 years ago. ‘Failure is not an option’ – that’s how I would describe this fearsome and talented man.”

He performed as both a flight director and flight operations director for the Skylab Program, and, at its conclusion, was assigned as deputy director of flight operations with responsibility for space flight planning, training and mission operations, aircraft operations, and astronaut operations.

In 1983, Kranz was assigned as director of Mission Operations, with responsibilities for all aspects of mission design, testing, planning, training, and spaceflight operations. He was also responsible for the design, development, maintenance, and operations of all related mission facilities, as well as the preparation of the Shuttle flight software. In this capacity, he was responsible for over 6000 employees, and an annual budget of approximately $750 million.

Kranz retired from NASA in March 1994 after 37 years of federal service. His current activities include consulting and motivational speaking to professional, civic, and youth groups. After retirement he served as a flight engineer on a B-17 "Flying Fortress," performing at airs shows throughout the United States, and constructed an aerobatic biplane.

Kranz was a co-recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded by President Nixon for the Apollo 13 mission, and was designated a Distinguished Member of the Senior Executive Service by President Reagan.

Kranz was the author of the “Spaceflight” section of the 1984 and 1988 editions of the World Book Encyclopedia.

He is a New York Times best selling author. His book, Failure Is Not An Option (2000), chronicles his work in Mission Control, from Project Mercury through Apollo 13 and beyond. The book was selected by The History Channel as the basis for a documentary program on Mission Control. It was broadcast as a two-hour special in August 2003.

Kranz is married to the former Marta I. Cadena of Eagle Pass, Texas. They are the parents of six children.

His special honors include:

  • NASA’s Ambassador of Exploration Award, 2006.
  • Honorary doctor of engineering degree from the Milwaukee School of Engineering, 1996, and the University of Toledo, 2010.
  • American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics: Lawrence Sperry Award, 1967; Theodore Von Karman lectureship, 1994.
  • American Astronautical Society: AAS Fellow, 1982; Spaceflight Award,1987.
  • The National Space Club: Astronautics Engineer of the Year Award, 1992.
  • Downtown Jaycees of Washington, DC: Arthur S. Fleming Award (Named one of ten outstanding young men in government service), 1970.
  • Saint Louis University: Alumni Merit Award, 1968; Founders Award, 1993.
  • Recipient of the 1995 History of Aviation Award for the "Safe return of the Apollo 13 Crew.”
  • Louis Bauer Lecturer, Aerospace Medical Association, 2000.
  • Selected for “Gathering of Eagles,” honoring aerospace and aviation pioneers at the Air Force Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell AFB, Alabama.

NASA Honors:

  • Distinguished Service Medal: 1970, 1982, and 1988.
  • Outstanding Leadership Medal: 1973, 1993.
  • Exceptional Service Medal: 1969 and 1970.
  • SES Meritorious Executive: 1980, 1985 and 1992.
  • International Space Hall of Fame, 2012.
  • International Space Operations Achievement Medal, 2010.
  • Lloyd Nolan Lifetime Achievement in Aviation Trophy, 2005.
  • Rotary National Award for Space Achievement, 2007.
  • John Glenn Lecture, National Air and Space Museum, 2005.
  • Cabot Award for Advancement of Science of Astronauts, 2010.
  • Elder States Award of Aviation, 2010.