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´╗┐Ren Harman: [Preliminary introduction to process.]


Ren: Good morning. This is Ren Harman, the project manager for VT Stories. Today's date is April 29, 2017, and we are in Houston, Texas. So we have a very special guest today, and I'm honored to welcome--and if you could, and this is the only time that I will prompt you, if you could just say, in a complete 2:00sentence, your full name and when you were born and where you were born.

Chris Kraft: Okay. How close to this mike do I have to be?

Ren: That's good right there.

Chris: Okay. My name is Christopher Columbus Kraft, Jr. I was born at 236 South Mallory Street, Phoebus, Virginia. It was on was down the local streetcar tracks. Went past our house. And from our house it went to Buckroe 3:00Beach and Hampton, Virginia, and then on to Newport News, Virginia.

Phoebus is no longer there. It's been merged into Hampton, so it's now known as Hampton, Virginia. I don't know how the people in Phoebus felt about that, but I didn't like it myself. But I liked Phoebus. We call it--Phoebus was known as Little Chicago because it was the other end of the NCO Railroad. And as a kid, I used to work there on occasion, unloading freight cars. But I got rid of that job pretty quick 'cause I was not very good at it. What else can I say?

My father--the Veterans Administration was at the end, other end of our street, 4:00and my father was a clerk in the Veterans Administration. That's where he met my mother. She was a nurse there.

She was...she came there from North Carolina when she was a young girl. She was in a very...she was raised in a very poor family. She was in an orphanage for a while, as a matter of fact, before she went to be with part of her family. She's the greatest woman I've ever known in my life, and I don't expect to ever know another--maybe I'll meet up with her in heaven.

She was a baseball fan, where I guess I got my love for the game. When I was a kid I father and mother would take me to Washington, which was about 250 miles away, to see the Senators play in Griffith Stadium. And I was a--like 5:00all kids then, I was a Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig fan.

And that was where I got my background, really, in sports, I guess, between them and my mother. My mother was a fabulous baseball [fan]. She used to listen to two games at a time, and when we got a television she still did that with the television. She was a Yankee fan, but unfortunately, she was at the same time a Dodger fan, which was hard for her to deal with when they started playing each other in the World Series.

Phoebus was a very typical, I would imagine, American town. There were 3,000 6:00people in Phoebus, surrounded by Buckroe Beach. And that's where I used to go to the beach all the time when I got old enough to go to swimming and that sort of thing, I would go to Buckroe Beach.

And spent all my summertime either there or at Fort Monroe, which was still there, but no longer functional, I don't believe. But it was an army base at that time. And I took advantage of all the stuff that was there. I used to go to the noncom swimming pool. I used to play baseball on the base baseball field. And I went to Phoebus School. Phoebus School was a...went through junior high school, the first two grades of high school. Then I had to go to Hampton High School, which was five miles away.


And that was...I used to hitchhike to school every morning. When we couldn't get a ride, we'd always, the six of us would get in a taxi, chip in a nickel a piece and take the taxi to school. Phoebus was a unique town because everybody knew everybody. I mean, it was really something. I'm serious. Everybody knew everybody. And we were very close to each other. I used to be responsible for getting on my bike and riding around town, and drum up all the guys to play baseball. And we sometimes had a hard time finding nine guys to play. But it was a great learning process for me, my first job at leadership, I suppose.


My mother, as I said, was a nurse, and she...when she got married to my father--I have to tell that story, I suppose, 'cause I would tell it in my book. When she met my father and he wanted to marry her, she worked for the...she was the nurse to the chief doctor, [Kecoughtan], and he told her that was not a wise thing to do.

He had had a nervous breakdown when he was in the army in World War II, and he said nine times out of ten it comes back. And it did. But about the time I went off to college at age 17 to Virginia Tech, he started a reversion back to his 9:00insanity, and that was very, very difficult with my mother. Difficult for me, too, but one of the tragedies of our life.

But the other thing that happened to me, at age three, I was...we had a big backyard and the yard ran up against the city dump, so it was always burning the trash back there. And I was back there one day at age three and fell into the fire, and I couldn't get out. Had difficulty getting out. And so I ended up with terrible burns, particularly on my right hand. My left hand was burned, too, my knees were burned, but the right hand was the bad part about it. And it took 10:00probably several years before I could use that hand again. Actually, maybe not quite that long, but it was very difficult.

Ren: Were you eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when this happened?

Chris: That's what I think I was doing at the time. I don't remember that very clearly. But what I remember about it was, I don't remember falling into the far, I don't remember what actually I did. I'm sure that's what I did, I went after my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and fell in. And anyway, my mother grabbed me up as I came back through the grape arbor, and I remember looking at my hand. It was awful looking. I mean, it looked like it had been in the oven baked.

And she grabbed me up, put stuff on it, burn salve that she had in the medicine cabinet, and took me directly to the doctor. And that sounds like a tragedy, and I guess it was at the time, but I got so I could use it almost as well as I ever could, I suppose, or might ever could.


I was a catcher on a baseball team, and when we needed one, a pitcher. And I could throw a hell of a curve with that crooked hand of mine. But that's the...I'd have to jump ahead to being in the Army, what do you call it, in the draft system. I went to Richmond from Virginia Tech at the time to get my physical because I wanted to be...I was gonna volunteer and enlist in the Navy to be a Navy pilot. But when I got there, a Marine doctor noticed my hand in a 12:00lineup of 20 men--20 boys, really--and he said, what's the matter with your hand?

And I said, nothing. And he passed it up. And I went--after I get through the physicals, I got called from the major's office, and he said let me take a look at that hand. So he looked at it. He says, you'll never be a pilot and you probably won't get in the Army. He says, we'll make you a limited service. My advice to you is go back to Virginia Tech, become the engineer that you're trying to be, because we need engineers probably worse than we need soldiers. That's where I went. So my experience at Virginia Tech then was quite...quite interesting.


Ren: Can I ask you a couple questions about your early life?

Chris: Sure

Ren: You talked about your love of baseball, and in your book you talk about having a baseball signed by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. When you burnt your hand, how did that affect your baseball playing as a child?

Chris: In my opinion, it didn't affect it at all. I didn't think I was hindered whatsoever. Now there were some things I couldn't do. Like even today I can't open my hand any further than that, so when I start to grab things, you know, it's not easy. But I'd say that in my lifetime the only result of my burned hand was to keep me out of the service. [Laughs.]

Ren: Keep you out of the service? [Laughs.]

Chris: You know, they didn't... They wanted good people to be fodder for the 14:00soldiers they were sending to Europe.

Ren: Right. Your name, Christopher Columbus Kraft, Jr., there's an interesting story from your book about your name and how you felt about it. You want to tell that?

Chris: Yeah. Well, my grandmother, her name was [Bickel], and she was 17 years old when she came to this country from Bavaria, Germany. And she came to New York City. I don't know how she got started in New York City or how she married Kraft. And he was a bartender. It says on my father's birth certificate that he was a bartender in... He was born on 47th and 10th Avenue. And it was three days before they named Columbus Circle Columbus Circle at 57th and Central Park.

And his mother, being a good patriot by then in the United States, named him 15:00after that event. Named him Christopher Columbus. And then I got named Christopher Columbus Kraft because the doctor... My mother was knocked out when she--I was born on the sofa in our living room.

Ren: Wow.

Chris: And the German grandmother spilled the ether on her and knocked her out for I don't know how long. And when she came to, the doctor said, well, glad you woke up 'cause here's Chris, Jr. So I don't think my mother had in mind naming me Christopher Columbus Kraft, Jr., but that's what Dr. [Vanderslice] called me, so that's what I got to be.

Ren: What did your mother think about that when she realized what you were named?

Chris: She never talked to me about it, really, you know. That was it.

Ren: That was it, yeah.

Chris: She didn't think it was good, bad or indifferent, I don't think. My mom 16:00was a very unusual woman in that not much bothered her. She was a wonderful, great woman, and sent me to Virginia Tech. When I went to Virginia Tech, she had $1,500 that she had been gifted from a death in her family. That's the only money she had. And she stretched that $1,500 into three and a half years at Virginia Tech for me.

She bought me a uniform, which at that time--which fortunately, you know, you didn't have to worry about clothes once you had a uniform at Virginia Tech.

Ren: That's all you needed.

Chris: 'Cause it was all military. And I believe it was the greatest time in my life except for being a flight director. I was in the Drum & Bugle 17:00Corps, the [American Legion] Drum & Bugle Corps. My father talked me into going there. I was a bugler. And I learned to march and parade and do very intricate maneuvers 'cause we were competing throughout the state for the championship of the state. We won it once, but we didn't get any further. But it taught me how to be a soldier, so to speak.

And so when I got to Virginia Tech, although I didn't like the rat system, I didn't have any trouble with it.

And I was, you know, marching was my thing, so it didn't matter. So I was very at home from that standpoint at Virginia Tech. I didn't like the rat system, but 18:00I suppose I benefited from it.

Ren: You've mentioned this a little bit about your father and some of the issues that he dealt with when you were growing up, and really when it hit home, I guess, when you left for college. At the time, I guess posttraumatic stress disorder wasn't necessarily a diagnosis, but is that kind of what you believe 19:00was going on with him?

Chris: Yeah, I knew what was going on with him because they ended up giving him those electric shock treatments, they called it, at Roanoke. They didn't do that in the...they put him in the hospital locally, where he was working.

And after a while they just couldn't handle him there. Couldn't take care of him, really. So they sent him on to Roanoke. It was hard on my mother 'cause she used to get on the bus and drive up there, spend the day with him and then drive back in the bus in the evening, so she had about a 24 hour day. And she did that quite often.

It was very difficult for me, frankly, to see him in that state, and I didn't like it. Therefore, I'm afraid I was not as attentive to my father as I should have been. I just didn't like being in that environment. And I don't think he... He would come out of it... When he first got up to Roanoke he would come out of 20:00it every once in a while totally, except he would be hyper, very hyper at that point. They'd send him home.

And he'd be home maybe eight, ten days and he'd be right back in the density of that insanity. And that's where I think they first gave him the electric shock treatments. And it would work for a time, but that was before they had the drugs that are now available. I think if they'd had the drugs they had maybe 15, 20 years later, they might have saved him, or at least kept him out of the depths of that insanity.

Ren: Growing up in the Depression, how did that impact your family in growing up?

Chris: I have to say...well, it was pretty hard on us, but they just took it as 21:00the course of things, you know. Nobody made any great overtures about it.

He was missed in the town because he was a notary public, and so he did all the papers for a lot of people in Phoebus. He was the secretary of the fire department. He was a big joiner, my mother called him. And so he was well known in the town, as was I, for some reason.

There were my class in high school in Phoebus I suspect we had about 25 or 30 students. And then went to high school the last two years at school at Hampton. Yeah, that put a crimp in my activities because in Phoebus I was a big 22:00shot and at Hampton I was unknown, and so I had to rebuild my reputation, I suppose you might call it.

I met my wife, and she was in my homeroom, they called it then. And I was one of the better students in the high school, although when it got to Virginia Tech, I realized I was one of many trying to go to class and get decent grades. It was very hard. But in Virginia at that time I think we were ranked 42nd or something like that in the country in education. And so my freshman year at Virginia Tech 23:00was mostly repeating the high school math courses and physics courses and English courses so that I was a better student than I would have otherwise been.

But I got [older]. I really had to work hard my freshman year at Virginia Tech. I worked all...I used the weekends to do my drawings, mechanical drawings and things like that, or to write my themes. And I found out I'm not too good in English.

I remember when I got the English, the first English class I took they asked us to write these...we had to write three or four themes per quarter. So I wrote one about baseball. And the English professor and I became close friends, for some reason, and he wrote in red at the end of my paper, he said it was a shame that such admirable thoughts would be ruined by such horrible grammar.

Ren: [Laughs.]


Chris: But he was a nice guy. The other guy that I always remember what--I took a course in technical English, which was writing reports, which was good because I did that later a lot in government. But he said one of these days we're gonna graduate engineers as well as educate--no. We were gonna graduate educated men as well as engineers from Virginia Tech.

Ren: [Laughs.]

Chris: I'll never forget that. And I had a math teacher who taught me calculus. His name was [Gudheim]. A short German fellow, hard to understand his English. He was quite a character. I remember the first day in class, in his calculus class, he started at the front of the room and he took a piece of chalk, went 25:00all the way around the room drawing this line of chalk all the way around.

Got to the other side, threw the piece of chalk out the window and said, that's infinity.

Ren: [Laughs.]

Chris: I also was taught by Professor [Rash]. I took mechanical...not mechanical drawing, but what do they call that? Anyway, it was math and drawings mixed up. You're trained in design and things like that. That was Professor Rash. He was really some kind of character. We called him Bosco, not to his face. I learned a lot from him, though. He was a very,

The trouble is they all left for the war. Not all of them, but a large number of 26:00the better instructors left to go teach in the Navy and the Army, and so we lost a lot of our good teachers in the war years.

Ren: You write in your book, and backing up to when you were thinking about college and Virginia Tech, you tell a story about your cousin--is it your cousin Gus?

Chris: Yeah.

Ren: Who used to tell stories about his rat year at Virginia Tech. And you said it kind of terrified listeners who would hear.

Chris: Yes, it did.

Ren: What were some of those stories that he told?

Chris: Well, he'd tell about the [crap] meetings, you know. They were famous at Virginia Tech at that point in time, and they were pretty brutal. It was before they got regulated more than they had been regulated.

And the sophomores always held these crap meetings, and they were very hard on 27:00the rats in the line. We'd always have to line up in front of the barracks and march to mess hall. And they'd give us a hard time, you know, yell at us, scream at us, all that kind of stuff. I didn't like that a lot. And then a couple of my roommates had a very hard time surviving that. They would cry half the night sometimes.

It was pretty bad at times, but it didn't affect me that strongly because I realized pretty quickly that if I reacted to them I was gonna get even worse treatment, so I didn't have too much of a time surviving the rat system. And I usually revolted against them. I used to throw the ranking sophomore's mattress out in the rain. I don't think he ever figured out who was doing that.


Ren: [Laughs.]

Chris: He was named [Jay Eager Townes], from Richmond, Virginia. I remember that name.

Ren: Wow. You say in your book, and I'm quoting, "VPI, it seemed, was a place for the crazies, the gung-ho or the poor kids who couldn't get into any other school." What was your first memory of Virginia Tech when you stepped on campus? And I think you said you first saw the campus in the spring of 1940.

Chris: My first memory was going to the tailor shop and getting my uniform, coming back in the barracks and putting it on. And I've got some pictures of that somewhere. And that was impressive to me. But the camaraderie that existed 29:00in your classmates was quite a thing, and I think we all learned a lot from that.

But I survived it. And I've benefited greatly, I think, in terms of leadership. I said that in my book, too. I don't remember anyplace in my career where I got taught leadership as much as I got taught self-leadership by having to be an officer in the Corps. And I went up from PFC to Captain. And having the responsibility of the cadets that were under me after I was a junior. I think I really benefited greatly by that in terms of having that responsibility for 30:00them. You know, you were the officer of the day and all that kind of stuff.

And marching every day. Marching to the mess hall. And then the parades that we had to go through. All of that was very impressive to me. I liked it and actually enjoyed it. And I think it had a great deal to do with shaping my willingness to be a leader with people.

Ren: I should have asked you this earlier, but why Virginia Tech, and when did you first start thinking about college as a high school student?

Chris: Well, my math teacher was Mrs. Stevens, and I had a good one in Phoebus also named Mrs. [Proudbred]. I was impressed by the fact that they liked 31:00teaching, that they liked teaching me, and that I was one of their prize students, and they were pleased to teach me.

Particularly Mrs. Stevens at Hampton High School. For some reason she liked kids from Phoebus, and she took a liking to me. And she used to drill me all the time and say, well, you need to learn all this stuff and get ready to go do college. You know, I hadn't even though about going to college. And she and the physics teacher--his name was [Cyrano]--he was quite a guy also. And those two had a great effect on me in terms of my wanting to be involved in engineering things, I guess you'd call it. Chemistry and physics.


I was not good at French. My French teacher was Mrs. [Moorland], and she liked me a great deal. As a matter of fact, her family ran the Hampton Steam Laundry, and she asked me one day if I would like to work in her...after school at the laundry. And I'd been working in the grocery store and been working in a men's clothing store in Phoebus, and I said yeah, I'd probably like that.

Well, it turned out that after I'd been there two or three months I happened to be one of the people who had any brains in the laundry, and I was almost running the place by the time I'd spent two years there. It was quite interesting. And the guy that was the boss there, he started paying me more money under the table 33:00'cause he didn't want the girls that worked there to know that I was getting a heck of a lot more money for working there.

'Cause I took care of the money, I took care of the drivers and things like that.

Ren: Did it all, yeah.

Chris: You know, I ran the whole damn--I didn't do the laundry, but the financial aspects of it I did. So Mrs. Mooreland, although I didn't do very well as one of her students, I did quite well as one of her workers.

Ren: So when you got to Virginia Tech, you were talking about going to the tailor shop to get your uniform. Do you remember--obviously the campus looks much different today--but what it looked like, smelled like, how did you feel, were you nervous?

Chris: No, I don't think it...I don't think it got to look a lot different until the '70s, when Marshall Hahn really revamped Virginia Tech. He started building 34:00a lot of new buildings. So it looked like a military base except for the gray buildings, the gorgeous gray buildings.

And I was on the upper quadrangle where all the old buildings were, so my room my freshman year was on the fourth floor. The bathrooms and the head were in the basement of our battery. And it stayed that way until into my sophomore year. And that's when the military started sending ASTP students, they called them, to get trained in higher mathematics, etc. at Virginia Tech. And I then had to move 35:00to the lower quadrangle.

And as a matter of fact, if you open your book there, one of the pictures is where my room was in the lower quadrangle. It was over the arches. And George Wiley and Horace Pierce and I roomed in that room. And on the lower quadrangle I had three other roommates. There were four of us in one of those rooms.

Ren: Wow.

Chris: We had two double bunk beds and then each one of us shared a desk. We had two desks. Each one of shared that desk. The three other guys in my room were football players. Joe Hoffman, Chuck Wilson and Gus [Mengis], all from Richmond, Virginia.


Had played football at John Marshall High School, which at that time was the best, most renowned high school football team. And they taught me a lot, too. They used me as a football. [Laughs.] But Joe Hoffman was a straight A--he was a center on the football team--he was a straight A student.

Two things impressed--I always tell the story--two things impressed me about him. He would go to chemistry class in Davidson Hall. It was one of these amphitheater classrooms. He'd go to sleep in the class 'cause he'd been 37:00practicing football half the time. And the professor, who ended up being the president of Rice University after I got here, he was a chemistry teacher.

And he would wake Joe up purposely and ask him a question. Joe would answer every piece of the question and go back to sleep. [Laughs.]

Ren: Wow.

Chris: And Joe had heard about Professor Rash, so he said how about taking me to class with you one day so I can see Professor Rash. So I did. And Joe was sitting there and Professor Rash walked up in front of him and says, what the hell are you doing here? [Laughs.] And Joe said I came to see how you taught these classes. And he looked at Joe and says, pretty damn good show, isn't it? [Laughs.]

Ren: That's good. You entered Virginia Tech as a mechanical engineer, right?


Chris: Yeah.

Ren: And then I guess at the time was engineering something you were interested in? And then you later switched to aeronautical engineering. What was the decision to enter as an engineer and maybe--

Chris: Well, sort of an innocuous thing, I suppose. The first two years at Virginia Tech at that time--and probably still is--the engineering is pretty close to being all the same, no matter whether it's chemical engineering or mechanical engineering, civil engineering. All of them are them are [the same] except--well, maybe not civil engineering. But most of them were, you know, you took thermodynamics, you took statics and dynamics, you took operational calculus was about as high in math as you went. But they were all about the 39:00same. But then you had to choose a major, and I'd already done that with mechanical engineering.

And the professors in the mechanical engineering, I have to say, at that time, didn't impress me. I don't think they were bad, but they just didn't inspire me. And when I took this course in introduction to engineering, each one of the departments, engineering departments, would come to these two hours sessions once a week and explain to us what an aeronautical engineer was, what you would do generally, what your responsibilities might be when you got into the industry, into the airplane industry. And I was fascinated by that. And besides the fact that I liked the profs. [Leon Seltzer] and another one. I always have 40:00trouble with his name. He taught structures, airplane structures.

And then I had O'Shaughnessy, who was an elderly teacher of hydraulics. And those three teachers were really terrific. And so I decided, well, I had seen glimpses of them. I said, well, I think I'll change my major.

Ren: Change your major, yeah.

Chris: I didn't really...I didn't really have any interest in being an aeronautical engineer when I was a young man. I got a lot of interest in it, of course, after I got in those classes, and then of course when I was in ACA. I was in the mecca of aeronautical engineering.

Ren: You mentioned a little bit of this earlier about some of your roommates 41:00having a difficult time adjusting to the rat system, and I believe you talked about this in your book as well, that I think you entered with a class of 1,200, and you said a lot of them really didn't make it.

Chris: Absolutely. I think we lost maybe 20% of them.

Ren: Wow.

Chris: It was the biggest class that had ever entered Virginia Tech, 1,200. And as you know you had to be in the military. You didn't have any choice. And one particular fellow student of mine, he was a fellow student of mine from kindergarten to VPI, and we roomed together our freshman year together. And he would actually cry himself to sleep some nights after they'd attack him in those crap meetings. He didn't...he was...he just couldn't put up with that stuff. He was kind of a...he was not an athlete, and he had a hard time dealing with all 42:00that kind of stuff that he had to put up with.

But after he got past the freshman year, he survived. He became a...I don't know what his duties were, but he was with the railroad in Delaware as a railroad engineer. Not a driver, I mean doing engineering for the railroad. Very, very nice guy. Very wonderful person. I liked him a lot.

Ren: You had a couple of events that occurred during your life at your time at Virginia Tech. A pretty bad car wreck, right?

Chris: Yes.

Ren: Can you tell that story?

Chris: Gee whiz, that was a... I had... My mother had bought an automobile, 43:00really, for me.

And one of the football players at Hampton High School was [Wendell Fuller], and his family, all of his family--there were three of them--were football players. One played guard at Virginia Tech. And football was big at Hampton High School. I say that because Wendell was quite a character.

I remember one of the things he did in Hampton High School is he put a three inch firecracker--if you know what that is--he put that in the air vent system 44:00and came back to class and sat down. He put the fuse on a cigarette and let it burn down. And that thing went off. I'll tell you, it scared everybody in that school. They thought the damn school had blown up.

Ren: Wow.

Chris: And they found out that he did it. Now that's who this guy was. We were taking... I was in my freshman year at Virginia Tech, and he was going with this classy girl at Hampton High School, and he wanted to take her--she had to go back to Richmond and catch a train to go to her college. And I had a date with a girl. We weren't having an affair or anything like that, but I had a date with this girl.

So I drove up to Richmond and took his date, and we got his girlfriend and put her on a train, and I came back. And he drove back. And the three of us are 45:00sitting in the front seat. I don't know why we were, but I was. And I was in the middle of the seat. And he was going about, I don't know how fast he was going, maybe 75.

That's pretty fast back in those days. 75, 80 miles an hour. We came up over this ridge, and they had been working on the bridge at the bottom of that, so the road was torn up. Still being used, but it was rough as hell. Well, he came up over that hill and he lost control of the car coming down. He started swerving back and forth on the road and he got too far over to the left and hit the ditch, turned the car around like that and it rolled over three times in a cornfield just outside of Williamsburg. It threw the girl, my date, out the 46:00door. It threw me through the windshield. And I landed in that field.

He was still in the car. The top of the car was right down like that on the seat. It bent the whole roof, of course, down on it. And I heard him yelling at me. I couldn't answer him. And I thought I was dead. You know, I said my Lord, here I am and he's yelling. I must be dead 'cause I can't talk, I couldn't talk. And finally I was able to--I came to, I guess. I probably had a concussion. I was bleeding from the ears and face. The first car to stop was a Jewish doctor.

Ren: Wow.

Chris: And he came over and started taking care of us all. And it wasn't too 47:00long after that that the--I don't know why I can tell you all these details, I just remember them--the state policeman arrived not too shortly...not too long after that.

And I didn't see him, I just saw he was there. The doctor took us in his car to the hospital in Williamsburg, and they started working on me 'cause I was... I wasn't seriously injured in the cuts, but I was bleeding a lot. And they had to wrap me up like a mummy. Well, the first part I want to say was the state 48:00policeman--I had a...we had a bottle of whiskey in the glove compartment, and I got that bottle of whiskey and threw it as far as I could throw it because I didn't want that fellow to find this alcohol. But we hadn't broken the seal on it. And the state policeman came in with this bottle in his hand.

He said, good attempt, but he said you didn't have to do that. [He] said I saw that the seal wasn't broken. But I remember going home. That night I got home maybe 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. My mother met me at the door, and here I am wrapped up like a mummy. She passed out in my arms.

Ren: Wow.

Chris: But I got over it and I went back to Virginia Tech. I remember being in class. I still have the scars here. That's where these cuts were. I'd be in class and glass would be coming out of my...from the windshield would be coming 49:00out of my hand, and I'd start picking out pieces of glass from my hand.

Ren: Wow.

Chris: But that's also when I caught scarlet fever. That was awful.

Ren: You were quarantined for some time, right?

Chris: Yeah. I was quarantined for three weeks.

Ren: Wow.

Chris: And we had an epidemic on the campus, maybe 250, 300 people had scarlet fever. And with scarlet fever the big thing is you get a very high temperature that burns your skin. It literally burns your skin off. And I remember that. The first couple of days you had all these hallucinations from the fever you were having. Had a temperature of about 105, 106.

Ren: Oh, wow.

Chris: And they were giving me...back then they gave you [sulfanoma]. I remember Dr. [Bullwine]. Never forget that name. He used to come in in the morning, every 50:00morning, and take a flashlight. There'd be about 12 of us on a ward and he would shine that flashlight and say how are you today? I remember that. But I got out. That was bad news. And then [all at once] all those people go through that hallucination every time. I mean, each guy that came in that had the fever, you know, you had to go through their hallucinations after you were on the mend.

Ren: Right. [Laughs.]

Chris: And then I got out of that quarantine and I don't know what I did, but I didn't go back to class immediately. About a week later I started going back to class and I realized I was so far behind in the classes I was taking, so I went to see my course advisor. And he said I would recommend that you just drop out 51:00because you're not gonna be able to pass the exams when you get to the end of the quarter. And so I did. And that was the biggest decision I'd ever had to make in my life again, was to go and join the Army, even though I was in...I hadn't been to the physical yet.

And that was not in limited service at that point. But I could have gone and joined the Army, and that's what I was talking about doing. And just one of these [Fuller] boys, and [Elmer Wilson], they were...Elmer was co-captain of the Virginia Tech football team at the time. They came to see me at home, talked me into going back to school to go play baseball. That's the thing that sold me. I was willing to go back to... But that sort of screwed up my education at 52:00Virginia Tech for a long while 'cause I was always behind my class. I didn't catch up with them, really, until I got to be a junior and senior.

Ren: Talking about some difficult experiences--and you've mentioned these, you know, the car wreck and scarlet fever and things--I guess one that kind of weighs heavily probably over your time at Virginia Tech was World War II.

And you state in your book, you said--which I found a really interesting quote is--"those of us left behind were torn between our duty to country and/or desire to finish school."

Chris: Right.

Ren: How was that balance, and how difficult was that when you felt like you wanted to serve your country, but at the same time...?

Chris: Well, I think as you would expect, particularly in World War II, all of us, the day it happened almost, within weeks, I suppose, that all of the 53:00students in the various classes, the seniors left within a week to go to OCS, Officers Candidate School. The juniors left at the end of that term for OCS, of which my cousin was one, [Allison] Kraft.

And then we below that, and because of my age, did not get called into the conscription. And I think we all felt pretty left behind at the time, and sort of as almost slackers in our minds, that all the whole damn university practically, 'cause there's only about 900 of us left at that point, were there, 54:00and here we are in the shelter of Virginia Tech, and they're over, you know, they're fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. And my cousin had been there as a second lieutenant for three months and he got a shrapnel thing that blew off and hit him in the back of his body and put him in the hospital for six months.

So that sort of, all that weighed on my mind as, well, here I am in the shelter of Virginia Tech and not being able to serve the country.

Ren: Was there a sense of guilt almost?

Chris: Beg your pardon?

Ren: Was there a sense of guilt that you felt in some way?

Chris: I suppose so. I got over it. But...

Ren: Did your classmates feel the same?

Chris: Yeah. I think we all felt that way, that, you know, here we were left behind. Because most of them that were there were just like I was. They had some 55:00kind of defect. Well, I didn't consider it a defect, but... They just dwindled off, too. I mean, you know, more and more of them would just quit Virginia Tech and go join the Army or the Navy.

Ren: What were some of your favorite experiences, your most memorable experiences from your time at Virginia Tech?

Chris: Dance weekends were wonderful. I started those as a freshman. Betty Anne came up my freshman year to the winter dances. You know, that was...we had a lot of fun. After not my freshman year, but after my [first] year I was involved in the planning of those dance weekends and hiring the bands. We hired the best 56:00bands in the country at that time. And those weekends were really something else. You didn't sleep for three days and, you know, you're all partying around with all the girls. Everybody's late dating everybody else's girlfriend and things like that, you know. We called it late [lady]. And that's the other thing I enjoyed about it.

About once every two or three weeks we'd have a dance at VPI or at one of the girls' schools, at [Solons] and VI [Virginia Ermont]. And we would go down there on alternate weekends to their dances, where they had girl [break] dances. That was quite interesting. I'd never been involved in that. I didn't know how to dance. Well, I waited till I got to VPI.

Ren: Was there a...when the girls would come to the ring dances and the dance 57:00weekends at Virginia Tech, wasn't there like they had to stay with a certain person or what was the...?

Chris: Yeah, well, they stayed with the...they had to stay with somebody in the town. Not certain ones, but you got them a place to stay. And they stayed with the families in the town.

And we were up all night long every night, practically. One of them, her name was Betsy something, her father was one of the head agricultural, what do you call them? In the agricultural business. He was in that part of Virginia Tech, and one of the people that served the state of Virginia.


Male: Extension.

Chris: He was sort of the head of that at Virginia Tech. And my date stayed there at their house. They were wonderful people. But I got, you know, the same was true with me and the professors. After I got to my junior and senior year, I was as close to the professors as I was to my classmates.

You know, and I spent an awful lot of time with them in their...they lived in the University Club, if it's still there. Two of them did. And the head of the department, Lee Seltzer and his wife lived university apartment at the club also. I got to know those people very, you know, like they were my brothers.

Ren: Lee Seltzer had a pretty significant impact on your life, didn't he, in terms of really inspiring you to want to...?


Chris: Yes, very much so. He liked me, I liked him, and he was very interested in making sure I got into the right place in the industry. And I thought I had until they wouldn't hire me, if you read that in my book. A lack of a birth certificate. It was ridiculous. But that was fate. That was really fate. If there ever was fate, that was it.

Ren: That was it, yeah.

Chris: Because I went back to NACA, which again is seven miles from my home. I go back home to live with my mother, and that sort of thing. That was was luck, I suppose, but it also was fate. And I was a pretty good engineer. I was never a...I didn't ever want people to think I was one of those brains. I was not a brain. I was a...I was a good student in high school, a straight A in high 60:00school except for French. But when I got to VPI, I had a hell of a time my freshman year making a C or a B. And it was very difficult. I had to work my ass off, relatively speaking.

And it wasn't until I got to my latter part of my sophomore year that I learned how to study. I never had to study when I was in high school. You know, I was a smart guy. I didn't have to do that. But when I got to Virginia Tech, I found that there were 25 students in my class who were a hell of a lot smarter than I was. And that made a big difference in your attitude. Probably good for me, in that I survived. But...because it was... I mean, at one--we had a 3.0 grade 61:00point average in that time. I guess you have 4 now, don't they?

Ren: Yeah.

Chris: And it was quarters, not terms. And I made a 1.75 my first year at VPI, which was what, in my mind, was pretty damn good, but it wasn't very good compared to what I should have been doing.

Ren: Right.

Chris: But then when I got to be a junior, I--

Ren: Kind of figured it out.

Chris: --I was a straight A student.

Ren: You were elected Corps president?

Chris: Yes, I was elected president of the Corps of Cadets.

Ren: One of the youngest? You were 21, correct? Is that right?

Chris: What?

Ren: You were 21 years old?

Chris: No, I I was 20 when I graduated.

Ren: Oh, okay.

Chris: I wasn't 21 yet. When I went to work at NACA I was still 20.


Ren: Wow.

Chris: Of course I went to school, I went to college for only three years 'cause of the war. As soon as the war started, they just never stopped going to school.

And by the time I got to be a junior, I was one of the few left, so I ended up being a captain and pretty...I was lieutenant and captain as a junior rather than waiting to be usually had to wait to be a senior to be that rank. You couldn't be any more than a first sergeant through your junior year. I don't know whether it's still that way or not. It might be, as few cadets as you have, with the way they spread out the ranks. But I was a... The last, I'd say the 63:00last four or five quarters at Virginia Tech, you know, I was a BMOC. If you know what that means?

Ren: I don't.

Chris: Big Man On the Campus.

Ren: Okay.

Chris: And, you know, I had the keys to the barracks, to the, you know, I could come in the back door, all that sort of thing. And I was playing baseball, that sort of thing.

Got hazed when I got into the den of the athletics club. It was [at the end of the Monogram] Club. I didn't like that, either. One of my guys that played baseball with me--I can't remember his name right now... What was his name? Funny, funny name. Anyway, he got in with me. We both got in as juniors.

And they put us in the gym and were gonna put us through all this physical 64:00stuff, beating us on the ass with paddles and so forth. But they had a diving board, practice diving board, and they'd take you out on the end of this and tell you you were in the pool, and you weren't, and tell you to jump off, and they'd say jump off feet first. Well, this friend of mine dove off that damn board onto the concrete, if you can imagine that.

Ren: Goodness.

Chris: Broke all his teeth out. [Laughs.]

Ren: Oh.

Chris: They caught hell for that, of course. The Monogram Club [when] that happened. But that kind of hazing doesn't go on, I don't think, at Virginia Tech anymore.

Ren: No, not anymore. So you graduated because, as you said, because of the war, in 1944, correct? And in your book you say, "from my secure vantage point in the 65:0021st century I can see what the Corps of Cadets, and particularly that senior year did for me. It gave me my first and almost only training in leadership." So when you graduated Virginia Tech and you had this leadership, can you kind of walk us through, I guess, in a timeline of y our roles and where you went to after you graduated, and kind of...I know you have an extensive career in NASA, so...

Chris: Yeah. NACA

Ren: Yeah, NACA, right. So what did that leadership, how did that play out throughout your life?

Chris: Well, I think the whole term of my life at that point started to be fortuitous, I believe. Very fortunate that I got into the airplane test business 66:00as opposed to being in a wind tunnel or being in some analytical...I did a lot of analytical work, but it wasn' was what I was supposed to do. I was a flight test engineer. I tested the P-51, the P-47, the F6F, and then I tested the AFAU, which was the first Navy supersonic airplane, etc.

And I did a lot of work on what we call gust alleviation and actually designed--redesigned an airplane to be a gust alleviated airplane. Would fly through the rough air without experiencing any rough air. All of those things were instructive. I learned a lot of things about airplane structures, I learned a lot of things about airplane instrumentation, I learned a lot of things about 67:00vibration and structural fatigue. And all of those things were a part of my preparation to be in the space program. I didn't know that, of course. Hell, space wasn't even allowed in the library when I went to NACA.

It was something nobody even thought about. We didn' couldn't go faster than the speed of sound when I got to Langley Field in 1940--January of '45. We were just starting to work on the Bell X1 airplane. The Air Force and the Navy, with NACA, had Bell Aircraft building the X1 airplane, which was intended to be 68:00a trans sonic airplane, i.e., you would be able to go through trans sonic speed and still maintain control of the airplane, which you could not do at that time. What happened was that you got separation of flow as you went through the trans sonic speed.

Because of the Mach...effects of the Mach or Mach cones and things like that coming off the wing, the air flow would separate from the air flow and therefore the controls on the end of the air flow which you move to move the airplane had no effectiveness. It went from just as an example of numbers, it went from about 9.0 at Mach number of .8 and 5 and 9 to .1 at supersonic speeds. So you totally 69:00lost control of the airplane because of the flow separation and the Mach cones that are coming off the wakes. And that's what we worried about at that time. The P-47, the P-51, you put it in a dive, you would lose control at the higher Mach numbers.

You'd have to slow it down and dive the airplane in certain ways to make it controllable. And I watched that all happen, having run the, you know. The P-47, as an example, if you put that thing in a dive and got it up to a Mach number maybe of .75, you would...the elevator would become ineffective. And so we tried 70:00to put fixes on it, you know. You would put a little extension on the elevator and things like that. And it was quite an interesting time period. Then what happened, though, was that as we got away from World War II technology, we began to get into automatic controls.

And when you got to where you were having trouble controlling the airplane, then you would put in gyros to measure literally what the movements of the airplane were doing and you could then design an automatic control system which would move the control surfaces on top of what the pilot would do.

And that required an extension in mathematics. And I...and using the [plus] 71:00transforms. And I wasn't too swift at mathematics to begin with. And I knew how to use it, but I couldn't drive it, and that used to bug the hell out of me. And that's where I was, working on gust alleviation. I had to do all of the math that went with that, do it on was before we had digital computers.

Had to do it by hand. And then eventually we did get what we called a REAC, a Reeves Electronic Analog Computer, where you could simulate the dynamics of the airplane in electronics. They're using electronics, and so you could literally fly the computer as an airplane, if that makes sense.

Ren: Yeah.

Chris: Well, that's where I was. And Sputnik flew, and that changed everybody's 72:00life. I mean, anybody that was interested in getting into space flight was...that just changed everybody's life. And Gilruth, who had been working on trying to get data at trans sonic speeds, he came up with several techniques, one of which was firing rockets.

And they built the rocket firing launch center over at...on the...can't remember the name of that place at the moment. Anyway, and when they--they had been working on manned space flight, but not very...not as if they were actually gonna do it, you know, how would you do it. And when Sputnik flew, then 73:00immediately everybody in the NACA became interested in space. Not everybody, but an awful lot of people.

And so we all went back to school to learn how to get into orbit and how to orbit the earth, and the fact that there was no density of air at 100,000 feet on up, and how fast you had to go to stay in orbit, what the problems were of getting there.

And then, worse than that, what the problems were of getting out of orbit, and control of the vehicle as it reentered earth's atmosphere. And that we didn't...we didn't know anything about that at that point. And like we didn't know anything about how to fly airplanes at trans sonic, supersonic speeds. The first time we tried that, usually we lost the airplane because it would just 74:00become uncontrollable. The F-100, for instance, which was well beyond the F-86, which was used in Korea, the Air Force built the F-100, and if you made the wrong move in that, it would go through the air like this. Literally level and spinning asshole over teacups.

Ren: [Laughs.]

Chris: The first guy that tried that, he kicked the [rudder] and the thing like that tore apart. So we were confronting those kind of problems at that point in time. And I became sort of an automatic controls expert. I wasn't, but I was at the time. That helped me a lot, though, when it got to the shuttle, built the shuttle.


Ren: Can you talk a little bit about your role becoming flight director? And I read this in doing some research that you were kind of known as the teacher. And can you talk a little bit about what kind of teaching you were doing to train and mentor people?

Chris: Well, you see, because I was in flight test, I had been used to writing what we called a flight request, which were the maneuvers you had to perform to measure the performance...flying performance of the airplane. Gilruth wrote a set of requirements, and I was using his set of requirements in that part of the NACA to flight test P-51s and P-47s, etc.

And I would write the flight request, get my boss's approval of what it was, and 76:00then take that to the pilots and say this is what I want you to do. Of course they were very familiar with all the maneuvers. And then so they would take off and go to these various speeds, they'd do various maneuvers to measure these properties of the airplane.

I was recording all that on a board. I put instruments on board the airplane to measure the airplane's response. And so that was sort of my first job as a flight director. I didn't know that was what it would be called, but I was the flight test engineer on the ground with the pilot.

And you needed that needed somebody on the ground because many, many times, almost every time, you would run into the point where you were running out of fuel and you couldn't get to the speed you wanted to or the conditions you wanted to, so you'd have to back off from that and fulfill the 77:00rest of the flight with other things that were needed to be measured. So that was sort of real time controls of the airplane, with the pilot, who turned out to be an astronaut.

And so I had that kind of background. And I I had the background of working with the airplane, but also working with the pilots. We became very intimate with each other bed of these tests that I was requiring them to run. And so Gilruth, at the time, was trying to build a small organization to start the manned space flight program. It wasn't called Mercury yet.

And he asked Chuck Matthews, who was in my...he was one of the lead engineers in 78:00my organization of flight ops, and he and I had been working together on various things to try to measure things in another way at trans sonic speeds. And Gilruth asked him to ask me if I would be interested in joining his group.

Now at that time he was in the process of building this organization called a space task group. I didn't know anything, but I knew they were doing something that was sort of, at that time, secret, etc.

Ren: This was about 1958, '57?

Chris: Yes, right, '57, really, '57, '58. And Gilruth had heard me...I made a presentation to the--you did this every once in a while, and the young engineers would give presentations to the senior engineers, of which he was one. And I had 79:00given them a presentation on gust alleviation, and he was impressed by that. I don't know why, but he was. And so he asked Chuck to ask me if I would be interested in joining their group. And at that point in time I was really, I was about to quit NACA and go...and the industry, do something a little more different.

Ren: This was a pretty stressful time, right?

Chris: Right. And Chuck, so Chuck came and asked me. He said, well, Gilruth would like to have you join us--he was working for him. And he was doing all this programming design work on a capsule, space capsule, etc., and the flying qualities of it, and then all of the problems you associate with launch, and recovery, and reentry.


And he said but we realize you're a local boy and you might not want to leave here. And I didn't tell him at the moment, I said my God, I was hoping for somebody to do that for a long time. And my wife even had been praying, she said, for me to get another job. So when he asked me, I didn't tell him immediately. I had made up my mind by the time I got home to join the space task group.

And the next day I told him I don't care where you're going, it doesn't matter to me. None of us knew where we were going at that point in time, but we guessed that if this thing took off, we'd probably go someplace else other than Langley.

Ren: And that brought that what, I guess, brought you to Houston?

Chris: No, we don't know where. It was seven different places in the country that were considered. And we got here because of politics, no question about it. 81:00And Exxon Oil Co., I guess, Standard Oil Co. offered them the 19 acres of land right there, and so... But we didn't know we were going to Houston. We thought we might go to either San Francisco or Florida. There was a unused Air Force base at McGill, I think the name of it was.

I don't remember exactly. I think it was McGill. Which had all these buildings, etc., and had the requirements that we needed. We wanted to be close to the water because of recovery operations and training crews and training...putting places, you know. Next to Cape Canaveral, as a matter of fact. But Albert Thomas was too strong--Albert Thomas being the head of the Appropriations Committee in the Congress at that time. And I think the fact that Exxon offered them the land 82:00and Albert Thomas offered them the money out of the Congress, so here we are.

Ren: The flight director for Mercury and Gemini, these projects. I don't know how best to ask you about them, so I'm just gonna let you summarize some memories you have from them or--

Chris: Yeah, well, myself and a young man named Howard Kyle, who was an expert in electronics and radar and things like tracking systems, the two of us, along with Chuck Matthews, who was our boss, and a couple of other guys who were the 83:00mathematicians on orbital mechanics and things like that, when we got the job of putting a man into space, then immediately we came up with what we called a flight plan, mission plan.

You sort of had to know what that was in order for the make a detailed design of a spacecraft, the structures, tracking, electronics, control system, rocket maneuvering, altitude control, rockets and so forth. And so Howard and I are the ones that came up with the game plan. We said well, we're 84:00gonna fly this thing around the earth.

We'll be up 100 miles. How often do we want to talk to it? How often do we want to talk to the crew? What do we need to know? What information do we need to have? One of the big questions put forth by the medical community was that man couldn't perform a task of any complication, perplexity in space, that he would be mentally...what is the word? Inefficient.

Ren: Right.

Chris: That is, he wouldn't be able to see properly because his eyes might expand under the zero gravity, he might be air sick, which it turned out a number of them did, and that they might not be able to back up the systems, they 85:00might have to do it all automatically, etc. And so as I started thinking about that, then [we said] well, how often do you talk to the vehicle when it's an airplane flying across country in the United States? Every 15 minutes you have to report.

So I said well, that's what maybe we'll have to do. We'll report going around the earth every 15 minutes. How much information do we have to have? What kind of telemetry do we have to have from the spacecraft? Telemetry was not being used anyplace at that point in time. We used film to record the instrumentation on the airplane. So we started looking at using telemetry.

I'd had a lot of experience with that with these bombs that we were dropping which allowed us to get through Mach 1. And a lot of tracking, 'cause you needed 86:00the tracking to determine what the speed was. So the telemetry, the tracking. Now that turns out to be what Howard Kyle knows all about. I know a little bit about it. I don't know the details of the design of that stuff, but I know the use of it. So we started laying out this game plan of what we would do.

How long do we want to be up there the first time? Do we want to go just one rev around the, one orbit around the earth or can we determine where it is in one orbit? So we decided we'd go three, and we would do that on the first try, and we'd limit the time the astronaut would be. Now we put all that together, start putting that all together. Now you got's getting more complex every day.

And the details of it get more complex every day. And we get involved with the design of the cockpit, etc. First you know--I know everything about the damn 87:00vehicle. I know everything we're trying to do. Along with a number of others. And McDonnell Douglas is building the thing. But I'm probably, from an overview point of view, I know more about it than anybody, just because I was there doing it and had to do it.

And so I just...I started thinking about, well, what kind of people do we need, what kind of facilities do we need. And that's where the idea of a control center from me came from. Now that was not unique because they were doing that at Edwards Air Force Base testing the high speed airplanes. So I used that, extended that into my thinking about having this information.

Now I got to get it back to a central place. I got to have people there to analyze it. I got to have the details of it and I got to have it displayed to 88:00them. I got to have a way of making the decisions. I got to have a way of deciding whether the systems are working. I got to have a way of determining whether the man is competent or not, etc. That's a flight director. Okay? I mean, that' just evolved.

We didn't name it. You know, I called myself a flight test engineer, but it wasn't long before I was being called a flight director because the people at Cape Canaveral now we were interfacing with. Now I got to go interface with all the people at Cape Canaveral, the recovery people, and tracking people, the people in central control, the people that were tracking the rockets to make sure that they were staying on course, and if they weren't blowing the damn things up, etc.

Okay, now that's who--I got to go learn that world, too. I got to write down 89:00everything that I want them to do at Cape Canaveral. And that ends up being a book that thick. I got to give...I got to write all that. I start out writing it all myself, but now, you know, tomorrow afternoon I need ten more people. Tomorrow afternoon I need ten more people.

Ren: Just continue to grow and grow and...

Chris: Right. The first thing you know, we've got a flight operations organization, I'm deputy to Matthews, and I just...there I am. I'm the guy that knows the most about it. I'm the guy that the boss knows is doing it. Okay, we'll make you the flight director. That's about how it came about.

Ren: Wow, that's fascinating.

Chris: And now the other thing, the other thing is I've now got all these people. I'd like to do it all myself. Can't do that. So I'll have a guy that 90:00looks at the...I had to do the control system. I'll have another guy that looks at the oxygen system. I'll have another guy that looks at all the fuels that are required. I'll have another guy that worries about the astronaut, what the astronaut's gonna do. I have another guy that worries about food, etc. Now all those people that are [on], I got to get them involved.

So instead of me doing the whole thing, I'm gonna make a guy do this, and I'll put a guy and have him do this. That's a flight...that's mission control stuff.

Ren: In your role as a flight director, what kind of work environment or atmosphere did you try to create among all these team members?

Chris: Well, that's the other thing I was just getting--I was gonna go there. The next step is okay, you got to train these people, right? I mean, you don't just put them in a console and say hey, look at the data. So you got to start 91:00training these people. You got to have a game plan. You got to have simulations. You got to train the flight crews in how to fly the spacecraft. We'll take that and build that into the source of the information we need to train the flight controllers.

So, okay, how do you do that? Well, the first time we did it we set up a bunch of cardboard...plywood places, put a guy here. Now, where are we gonna put these stations? We don't... We want to talk to them every 15 minutes, at least on the first three revolutions. We want to do that. We want to talk to them when they're coming down, the details of the entry when it's liable to break up or 92:00burn up. Or it might have to come down in an emergency in Timbuktu. Okay, now that's a whole new set of game plans, right? There are no stations every 15 minutes around the earth. In Africa the only thing you got is teletype.

You can't get anything out of Africa but teletype. In the Pacific Ocean I don't have anything. I do have Hawaii. The Air Force has a station in California. They got a big station in Cape Canaveral and they got a down range set of stations where they fire all the ICBMs all the way to Ascension. If you know where Ascension is. It's down in the South Atlantic.

So we go to a map. We've got this, you know, it looks like a Chinese finger as 93:00it goes around the earth. I want one there, and I want one there, and I want one there. And okay, that's of those is in Zanzibar, one of those is Kano, one is in Canary Islands. Hell, we don't know anybody in the Canary Islands. So we got to get the State Department involved. We got to go get the State Department to get agreements out of all these places.

And right now I'm responsible for building that. And I went to my boss. I said, look, I got so damn much to do I can't do that job. How about getting a bunch of guys from Langley to come to work for us and build this worldwide network? So they put together a cadre of engineers, on their own. They weren't a part of the space task group at the moment.

And they took our requirements, stayed with us a couple of weeks to say here's 94:00what we're doing, here's what we propose to do, here are the contractors we propose to have build it, here's the buildings we're gonna build, here's who we're gonna work with, here's what it's gonna look like. And then we're gonna go build it.

And that turned out to be AT&T, Bell Labs up in Whippany. It turned out to be...I can't think of the name of that company at the moment. Very prominent. We had a company that did the brick and mortar and a company that did the instrumentation, a company that did the radar, a company that did the overall design. They took care of all that. And they built that damn thing in two years. 95:00Unbelievable. They did a fantastic job. Here's these--now we got 15 stations around the world and a lot of it's water. We need a couple of ships so we can move them around various places under the...where it's flying.

And we took seven, five to seven 707s and put instrumentation in so we could fly those airplanes anyplace we wanted to under the spacecraft, in case we had an emergency landing. Now, my God, we got to...also we got to talk to the U.S. Department of Defense 'cause we need a lot of Navy guys to go fish these damn things out of the water. And we got to train all those people. When we flew Mercury the first time, we had 10,000 sailors working for us.


Ren: Wow.

Chris: Around the world from their various stations. Guadalca...what's the name of that island over there?

Male: Guam?

Chris: Yeah, Guam was one, but the one up there in the north where the Air Force and the Army still have a big station, that island up there off the trans... Anyway, those kinds of places became a part of our game plan, of our team.

And we had to train them how to get the spacecraft out of the water, how to get the astronaut out of the spacecraft, so forth.

Ren: Wow.

Chris: Etcetera.

Ren: That's fascinating. So you were the director of the NASA Lyndon Baines Johnson Space Center from 1972 to--

Chris: '82

Ren: To 1982.

Chris: During the Sky Lab, and the Apollo-Soyuz, and the building of the space shuttle.


Ren: I want to ask you--

Chris: That's my pride and joy, the space shuttle. As an aeronautical engineer, that was a fantastic challenge.

Ren: I'm kind of gonna go back to Virginia Tech a little. If someone says Virginia Tech, what's the first thing that you think of?

Chris: Me personally?

Ren: Yeah.

Chris: That's where I became a human being and a man. You know, I was a... I thought I was a smart kid. I wasn't. I thought I knew a lot about life. I didn't. I didn't know anything about contract...having an RFP put out to the 98:00industry to build anything, or how to be involved in the evaluation of that proposal to the government. Mercury had 15 proposals that we had to evaluate.

So I'd say that' wasn't until I'd been working in the space task group for maybe a couple of months, and hell, I had ten jobs to do every day. I was responsible for the clock that was gonna fire the rockets on time on the basis of command input and know the clock. So I had to design the clock.

I didn't design it, but I was responsible for the clock in the spacecraft that 99:00was being designed and built at McDonnell Douglas. Or I was responsible for the displays that the astronaut was gonna see in the spacecraft. What do you want him to see? What can he do? What information does he have to have in order to back you up or you back, literally back him up, is the way we designed it to be.

But it turned out we had, many times, to be the other way around. We were the guys that were...he was dependent on, on the ground.

Male: Can you talk about that in more detail? So at mission control, the folks over your guys, they are the ones making the decisions and changing what needs to happen in the spacecraft that's orbiting?

Chris: All of us in mission control were, yes. Yes.

Male: And the astronaut.


Chris: And the astronaut. Together with the astronaut. You always wanted him to make the decision if you could, in the early days. If he could do it. If you could give him enough information to do the right thing, you wanted him to do it. But you found out very quickly, too complicated. He couldn't keep track of the propellants that were on board. He couldn't keep track of the fuel, he couldn't keep track of the oxygen.

He had the meters, but now you're giving him all kinds of things to do, which makes it very complicated to do, and therefore we on the ground really did probably 75% of it.

Male: And because of this network that you just talked about that's set up around the globe now--

Chris: Right. And then I was responsible for training all those people that we had to send to those stations to observe these things to send that information and voice reports back to a central control place. I mean, you know, the thing 101:00just kept getting... To do the things we had to do got, just kept expanding like crazy. And my organization went from about ten or 15 guys to 700 in what we call flight ops. So it was a hell of a job.

Male: The space shuttle program, you said that was your pride and joy.

Chris: Yeah.

Male: What comments do you have on the space shuttle?

Chris: Beg your pardon?

Male: What comments do you have on the space shuttle program and the design that was used?

Chris: Well, all of those people that were the government engineers overseeing what the contractors did, they designed it and built it on the basis of our requirements. And we started out doing the preliminary design ourselves, and 102:00then we expanded that into a RPF, request for proposal, and then they would bid on that. And then they'd tell is what they were gonna build, generally speaking, and how much it was gonna cost, and how to go about testing it, testing the systems and then testing the vehicle.

So we had to have a complete government capability to oversee then what the contractor was doing in detail. The Air Force didn't buy things that way. The Air Force would--or the Navy--would give the contractors a set of requirements and then they would take it from there, and they'd do the flight testing, the contractors would. Well, we smart ass government engineers, one of which I am, we, you know, we're smarter than they are.


And literally we were because we knew more about what we wanted and what we were trying to do than they did. They hadn't thought about it at all. Now they got the responsibility of building it. So we'd oversee that. All the way from project Mercury, which is just a capsule and a heat shield and a parachute and a retro rocket, now we got a whole vehicle called Gemini, which would allow us to do maneuvers in space.

Now that's a whole new ball game. Maneuvering and being able to rendezvous and dock in space, that's a whole new ball game. The rendezvous system, the computer system, the propulsion system to do the maneuvers with, etc. And then when you get to the space shuttle, I mean, well that just expands all the way into 104:00Apollo. We got to be able to...we've got to navigate to the moon, right? So we got to know how to do all of that with inertial guidance, with tracking the stars to correct the...

Chris:, which, it has all this information, and we put 35 stars in there, in the computer. Give you a sextant site through the window of the Apollo spacecraft, put that information where those stars were located in it relative to where you are, how that fits the trajectory you were on, the computation, and therefore the navigation and guidance to get there. So as you see, everything starts multiplying in complexity. You know, the guy...Draper. Draper was a guy 105:00that worked with the Navy in the end of World War II to build the Polaris submarine.

The Polaris submarine could launch a rocket from underwater up through the water and then be guided to the target. And he came up with the inertial platform which allows you to have a reference inside the vehicle to which you can apply navigation and guidance to get to Moscow. All right, now we took that information and we expanded on that in Gemini to do rendezvous and docking. We wanted to do docking 'cause that's what we were gonna do with the command module 106:00and the service module, both around the earth and around the moon. So we wanted to know how--we learned how to do that with brains and computers.

And, you know, we were able to take all the tracking data, radar data, information off the spacecraft, put all that together in our computers in Houston and tell you what maneuvers to get to perform to have a vehicle up there and go rendezvous with it, make the maneuvers, etc. How do you want to do that? Well, we want the pilot to be involved. Things like where do you want the sun when you're doing the docking? Does he need a target, you know, as he comes up to the spacecraft? How does he slow it down? How does he compute that in his 107:00computer? How do we help him on the ground to compute it?

Male: So many questions to answer.

Chris: Question after question. That's what we're...that's what I'd tell them. And that's what we did. Most people don't realize what the hell we did. And now I've got, what, 3,000 people working on the job here in Houston, and I've got 400,000 people in the United States working on Apollo, either building the vehicles, building the hardware, the special hardware, building the instrumentation, building the...doing the national, what is it? USGS, United States Geophysical System--not system, but department. So again, all those guys 108:00now are gonna work for me, 'cause they're gonna plan where we want to land on the moon.

They're gonna plan what places we want to, what do we want to measure? What do we have to teach the astronauts to do after they get there? NASA's got to do that. They got to have all these people, got all the scientists in the universities. We got all the people from MIT and several other universities. MIT built the first Apollo computer. Literally built it. Taking what Draper had developed for the Polaris submarine. I could, you know, I can think of thousands of things if you keep asking me questions about what other things we did.


Male: Where do you see NASA's future is going forward today?

Chris: Well, I know where I think they should go, but that's not where NASA's going right now.

I think we should go back to the moon. I think we should expand our knowledge of the moon, not only from a physical point of view, but what can we use it for, what can we build there, who can live there, how do we get there a lot more expeditiously than we can today, how do we do it less expensively, how do we do it more safely, how do we do it living there.

How do we protect ourselves from sun spot activity, the radiation that's there, etc. How do we take advantage of the natural resources of the moon. How do we take advantage of the fact that we can build solar batteries on the moon and 110:00maybe send that back to the--send that power back to earth. At least you'll do that to supply the power on the moon. There's water on the moon, we think. Pretty sure.

If there is water there, then we could build rocket fuel. If we can build rocket fuel, we can use that a way station to go into deep space. NASA says they're going to Mars. That's what their game plan today is. They can't do it. It's technically not... It's not technically feasible. We don't know how we'll do a lot of things when we get to Mars. We don't have a lot of things to get there.

We don't have a lot of things to get there quicker. We don't know how the astronauts can live that long under that environment, both from a zero gravity point of view and from a radiation point of view. We don't know how to get back 111:00if we have to. We don't know how to use the atmosphere of Mars today. We don't have the electrical power to get there because you can't do it with solar power, going there with solar cells.

You have to build some nuclear power engines to do that with. Now if you can build the nuclear power engines, you could get an abundance of electricity, you could use that for propulsion, gas and electricity. You heat the gas, blow it out the back end. That sort of thing. We don't know how to do that all. And we won't know how to do it.

But we also don't have the money. It's gonna cost billions and billions of dollars to do it. So let's go to the moon first. Let's go back to the moon, take advantage of the moon, take advantage of how the earth might take advantage of 112:00the moon's resources, etc. I think that's what we do. I think that's what we're gonna do 'cause we won't be able to go to Mars. We just flat can't afford it.

Male: When I came to Virginia Tech in 1998, there was talk of the aeronautical plane being designed at Virginia Tech, and that was a plane in space that would use gravity from each planet to get to.

Chris: Right, right.

Male: Did that ever make its way up to you?

Chris: Well, of course. I mean... The Air Force has got a vehicle up there that's been up there now for 700 days.

Male: Pretty cool.

Chris: You know, it's still flying. It doesn't have any men in it, it's unmanned. But they had that ACA, NASA, build the vehicle to be up there 113:00for...still there. I don't how long they're gonna stay. They put the first one up 100 days and then a lot longer. I don't know what they're doing with it. I'm sure they're doing spy work or things like that.

Ren: So we'll wrap up here. I want to ask you, though, a couple things about your service to Virginia Tech. You served two terms on the Board of Visitors. How did that come about, and how did you feel about being in that role?

Chris: Well, it first came about because Virginia Tech had a Chris Kraft Day, that you're aware of. That's when I was on Time magazine. And they bought the...I got that upstairs. They bought that picture from Time and gave it to me, that ceremony. Had the Cadet parade for me, did all that kind of stuff. They 114:00want to have another one, by the way, Tom [Tiller] wanted me to have another one. I said no way. I don't want another one. I'm too old to go through that again. I've been praised and awarded and all that kind of stuff. I don't need any more of that.

Ren: Okay.

Chris: You know? I'm 93 years old. I can't hardly fly anymore. I don't. I can't go see my son in California, in San Francisco, because I can't walk. I go walking in the mall every day if I can just to keep my strength up, but I can't walk through an airport.

Male: To Ren's question about what was happening when you were serving as a Board of Visitor, was there anything transformative--

Chris: You betcha.

Male: --that you wanted to share?

Chris: Yeah. We were going through the business of men and women living in the 115:00same barracks, in the same building, same rooms, almost. We were going through furnishing the students with prophylactics, you know, that sort of thing. We were going through building all kinds of new buildings.

And Marshall Hahn was, really he totally changed Virginia Tech.

Ren: What was your relationship with Marshall Hahn?

Chris: I had a great relationship. He was the one who... Well, he saw me--I was gonna say he saw me at the Chris Kraft Day. He got to know me then. He had just become the president. And he asked me if I'd be interested in being on the Board of Visitors. And I really didn't want to do that, but I did it for him. And I thought I could contribute to Virginia Tech's way of life. We had a lot of 116:00battles on the board while I was there. I don't mean that animosity existed, but we did have a lot going on.

And I really had a great respect for what's his name, the guy that succeeded him. She showed you his picture.

Male: Lavery.

Chris: Bill Lavery. He and his wife. They treated me like I was a king. Well, actually, so did Marshall Hahn. I stayed with him every time I went there and got to know his family. And he had a great deal of respect for me and I for him.

Ren: During your time on the Board of Visitors and since your time on the Board 117:00of Visitors, what changes have you seen kind of take place at the university, and what do you think of some of those changes?

Chris: Well, the whole campus has changed at Virginia Tech. It went from being a military school to a few cadets, and a university. And they were always great in various forms of education, but when I was there it was mostly agricultural and engineering. Some business. You could get a business degree there then. Yeah, those three. That's what it says on my ring, I think.

But now, you know, can's a university. The definition of a university, it teaches everything. They've got a medical facility there with the 118:00veterinarian. They did that while I was there. I mean, I was there when they started the veterinary school.

I wasn't too happy with that. I talked to what's his name, the guy that came from engineering to be the president.

Male: Torgesen.

Chris: Huh?

Male: Paul Torgesen?

Chris: Yes, Torgesen. We had a big argument, friendly argument, about--not when I was on the board, but later--that I thought he...they had...they'd [talked] too much at Virginia Tech. I didn't want to see it expand like that. But he said...his answer to me was that's not my responsibility, it's not Virginia Tech's responsibility. Virginia Tech's responsibility is to fulfill the higher 119:00education needs of Virginia. And so if they want a veterinarian school, then we're gonna provide it, and whatever other school that the students say they want is what we're gonna build.

I still don't think that's the right way to go, but he did, and it's succeeded. I would have not bitten off that much as part of our need to add value to the state of Virginia, but he's more learned on that matter than I am.

Ren: What changes would you like to see? Is there any ideas you have about changing the university?

Chris: Well, I just...I wouldn't have expanded into all those fields. I think it's too much from a management point of view. And I don't think very many 120:00schools have succeeded. But Texas A&M's pretty good at it, and they're the same land grand college as Virginia Tech is.

So, you know, hell, there's what, 70,000 students at Texas A&M. I wouldn't want to be the president and responsible for that. And they have a lot of problems with it, believe me. I know they do. So I just think we should...we did limit it once. When I was on the board I think we limited it to about 18,000 students. And then it went to 20. And I don't know what it is now, but it's...

Male: 31,000 with graduates.

Chris: Yeah, 31,000 and going up.

Male: With graduate students, yeah.

Chris: Yeah, with graduate schools. And they just started into a lot of graduate work, which I certainly didn't object to that, because I think that does serve 121:00the advancement of the state of the art in a lot of things: chemistry, engineering, chemical engineering, agriculture certainly, business, 'cause they are good at... What's his name who's responsible for that.

Male: Pamplin?

Chris: Huh?

Male: Pamplin.

Chris: Yes, Pamplin. Of course he took Marshall away from Virginia Tech, too. He asked Marshall to be his president of that company which--

Male: Georgia Pacific.

Chris: Right, Georgia Pacific. I like him, too, by the way. He was a fine person. His son was a preacher. Hell of a nice guy. Hell of a nice guy. I'm a big Christian. He's a hell of a nice guy. And I had great respect for the...its 122:00spirit and the attitude that exists on the Virginia Tech campus. I think it has a certain amount of discipline associated with it still, and I like that.

I think that's important. How would you like to be at Berkeley, as an example? I think that's ridiculous. That's what it is and it is what it is.

Ren: You were talking a little bit about the awards and things that you received and kind of the praise. So the four distinguished service medals, you have a NASA outstanding leadership medal, you have all these awards and things. You also were presented the 2002 Ruffner medal from Virginia Tech. And we've interviewed other award recipients of that medal for VT Stories. Can you talk 123:00about being presented that medal in 2002?

Chris: Well, you're proud of every medal you get, but I have to say after a while, I don't need any more medals, so don't give me one. I just got two this week that I didn't ask for. But I look at that as that was my people. They were the guys that did the job. Even when I was a flight director, you know. I was the boss and I made the decisions, but without them I would have been nothing.

I think of a guy name Bill Tindall. He was a close friend of mine, and he was really the brains behind rendezvous and docking. He was the brains [behind] going to the moon of the planning of having a free return trajectory when you go 124:00to the moon, which means if you launch on a trans lunar injection and you don't have to touch the damn thing, it'll come back to that point.

You can design the trajectory that way. As long as you don't perturb it. Things like that. I mean, those are the kind of things that...those are the people that deserve the medals, not Chris Kraft. I was, you know, I was the mouth. I was the guy that met the press. I was the guy that dealt with the press, all of that. And I was good at it. But I don't think that deserves a lot of medals. It's okay. I accept them and I'm proud of them.

Ren: What would you like people to know about you that maybe they don't?

Chris: That I was a good leader. That I was responsibility for a lot of people's 125:00lives, and I enjoyed doing it, and I produced a lot of very fine people because of my management techniques, which were given them the damn job and you let them go do it. Don't try to tell them how to do it.

And everybody liked working for me as a result of that. And I've seen too many instances in my own business where the guy that was in charge thought he was smart. And that's death. As a matter of fact it was the death of three man on the pad and it was death on the two accidents we had on the shuttle. That kind of leadership that existed there was not good.

But that's people. That's the world we live in. You have to sort of say well, 126:00that's what you're gonna have to live with, so you're gonna have to make do. But I think people loved me because I was...I gave them, always gave them a job to do and didn't try to tell them how to do it.

Always said there's more than 100 ways...more than one way to get to Richmond, Virginia. And I felt the same way about management. Now, but I was a bitch, I was a bastard when it came to doing it right. You either did it right--and there are many ways to do it right, I agree with that. But I couldn't stand a slacker. I wanted you to do...I wanted you to give me 110%. And I got that out of the people that worked for me. And I think that's the reason we were as successful as we were.

Ren: The last couple of questions, and thank you for being so generous with your 127:00time this morning. We really appreciate it. And inviting us into your home. What does Virginia Tech mean to you, both big and small?

Chris: What is what?

Ren: Virginia Tech mean to you, both big and small.

Chris: Hell, Virginia Tech gave me the opportunity to be an educated person, and they did a damn fine job of it in many ways. And they continued to expand on that capability, and I think they are one of the best universities in the country as a result of that. I would have not gone anywhere without Virginia Tech. I mean, they gave me what I have. And I appreciate it. I loved it. I 128:00hated--I didn't want to leave Virginia Tech when I left there as a young man. People used to say, well, what happens is you have three--you live three lives.

I've lived 100. But they say primarily you live three lives: pre-college, college, and your business world. In my case it was at least 20 more, maybe 100 more. You know, I was on the board of directors of seven companies in downtown Houston. I was on the Chamber of Commerce downtown Houston. People locally really respected me, and I enjoyed being part of them. I was on the hospital board, Park Plaza Hospital for 20 years. I enjoyed doing that. I had to do a lot 129:00of different things that you wouldn't think you had to do at a hospital, either, but...

Ren: So--

Chris: I mean, Virginia Tech gave me the opportunity to do those kinds of things. Without that, I would know, hell, I probably would have ended up being an apprentice in Newport News building ships for a [nautical] company. I may have gotten to be a designer or something like that, but I would never have had that opportunity without going to Virginia--the opportunities I had.

Virginia Tech gave me a broad capability to be willing to accept the responsibilities that I had as I went along. As I said, I wasn't the smartest guy in the office. I wasn't the smartest guy at JSC, I wasn't the smartest guy in NASA. But I had the capability to make things happen. And I'm proud of that.


Ren: Thank you.

Chris: I am proud of that.

Ren: Last question. Is there anything that you'd like to say or that we didn't ask that you want to say for the record?

Chris: No, you asked me enough.

Ren: Asked you enough?

Chris: Yeah, I think you asked me enough. You found out what kind of person I am, I think. If you haven't, read my book, which you have.

Ren: Yeah.

Chris: And I was also outspoken. That I was also. That got me in trouble. A lot of times it got me in trouble. But I was usually right. And that's not braggadocio. It's just I usually was. I just had the intuition associated with that. but that only came from experience.


Ren: Well, just on behalf of Virginia Tech and on behalf of VT Stories, thank you so much for taking the time to sit with us and to talk with us today and being so generous with your time. So Mr. Kraft, thank you so much.

Chris: Yes, sir.

Ren: Thank you.

Chris: My pleasure.

Ren: Thank you.