I'M like an orchestra conductor," says Christopher Columbus Kraft, flight operations director for the Apollo missions. "I don't write the music, I just make sure it comes out right." Chris Kraft's unlikely podium is the windowless Mission Operations Control Room on the third floor of Building 30 at NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center near Houston. His musicians are the 30 controllers who sit at four rows of gray computer consoles, monitoring some 1,500 constantly changing items of information registered on gauges, dials and meters. Kraft's primary instrument is a pair of IBM 360 Model 75 computers with a total capacity of 2.5 million bits of information, which enables him to harmonize the thousands of complex equations and manifold instructions that program a lunar mission.
In the Trench
Most of the relaxed, casually dressed men under Kraft's baton have degrees in engineering, mathematics or physics. Though their average age is only 32, many have been with the program since the space program's first flights began with Project Mercury in 1959. They form four teamslabeled green, white, black and maroonthat serve around the clock in overlapping eight-hour shifts.
The first row of consoles in Mission Control is known as "the trench," because it serves as the front line for the whole operation. Its four blinking consoles are managed by specialists in space dynamics; they report on booster systems, retrofire, flight dynamics and guidancerespectively known in the control room's jargon as "Booster," "Retro," "Fido" and "Guide." Working in concert, they are responsible for propellant tanks, for calculating the exact moment of retrorocket firings, computing maneuver times and keeping track of spacecraft computers and guidance systems.
In the second row are the flight surgeon (whose shorthand designation is "Surgeon," never "Doc"), and the spacecraft communicator, or "Capcom." White dots sliding across the surgeon's console screen indicate heart and respiration rate's of the astronauts. Capcom, always an astronaut himself, handles all communication with the crew, giving the men who are deep in space a direct link with one of their own. Only in emergencies does anyone else take the microphone. There were none with Apollo 11.
Behind them are the flight director and planning and operations officers. "Flight" is the captain of the team, the man who makes the crucial decisions. Head flight for Apollo 11 was Cliff Charlesworth, 37. His green team handled liftoff, translunar insertion and the moon walk, known in space jargon as "Extravehicular Activity," or EVA. Charlesworth admits he liked EVA least of all the mission's activities, "because there just wasn't much I could do." Other flight directors for Apollo 11 were Gene Kranz, 35, who wears a white vest to match his team's color; Milt Windier, 37 (maroon), and Glynn Lunney, 32, whose black team handled the lift-off from the moon and Eagle's rendezvous with Columbia.