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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.–We can go back to the moon if the right leadership is in place and is well-established by the time we launch, said former NASA flight director Gene Kranz, who spoke about the Apollo 11 mission at Purdue University, Thursday. 

Kranz, 85, was a leader at NASA for several decades and is known not only for his direction of the Apollo 11 moon mission, but also pulling the Apollo 13 team through their space emergency and getting the crew safely back to Earth. He was portrayed in the movie “Apollo 13” by Ed Harris.

“I believe they can build the hardware. I think the greatest challenge will be to build the team,” said Kranz, when asked if he believed we could get back to the moon during the five-year time frame established by Pres. Trump for the Artemis mission.

“Unfortunately as the result of the shutdown of the shuttle program, we lost an entire generation of people experience and capable of making risk judgment.”

Kranz said when he put together the team that flew the Apollo missions, the crew was rugged, tough, disciplined, smart and brutally honest.

“They were young. They were willing to accept the challenge, take risk, and they were damn proud of what they were doing,” he said. “There was very little political correctness in our line of work in those days.”

Kranz said the sometimes brutal honesty was what was needed to sharpen the team.

“If you didn’t like somebody, you just let ’em know it, and hopefully that would square ’em away. Not only would they critique me, get on my case, but basically it was that kind of relationship. It was always a learning, team-building relationship. It was never personal. And that way you can apply criticism, get the job done and still be brothers.”


Kranz said one concern in losing a generation of people who know risk judgment is rebuilding that trait in a short time period.

“We formed this team relationship that we carried forward into Apollo. So, by the time we flew the Apollo program, we’d had about six years working as a team and we’d learned to live with the risks of our work,” he said.

Kranz believes getting back to the moon, and possibly further, will be an international effort.

“I think the Artemis is a darn good idea and I’d love to see us wrap arms around the freedom-loving countries of the world. We’ve learned a lot by building the International Space Station, the good, the bad. But, the fact is is that working together as a team, unity aboard that space station, we can accomplish great things.”

Kranz spoke specifically about the Apollo 11 mission as part of Purdue’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first walk on the moon.

PHOTOS: Ashley Fowler/Emmis