Mission Control Director Gene Kranz's Memorabilia Sale Takes Flight

Mission Control Director Gene Kranz's Memorabilia Sale Takes Flight
Veteran NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz (right) stands with Steve Hankow of FarthestReaches.com inside one of Kranz's memento-filled offices. Both are holding examples of Kranz's trademark white mission vests. (Image credit: FarthestReaches.com)

Areyou searching for the perfect holiday gift this season for the space enthusiastin your life? Is failure not an option?

Veteran NASA FlightDirector Gene Kranz and online space memorabilia dealer FarthestReaches.com (FRC) may justhave the answer.

Kranz,who is best known to the public by Ed Harris's portrayal in the 1995blockbuster Apollo 13, has partnered with FRC to sell items that he collectedover his 34 years with NASA, many of those leading Mission Control.

Theselection from which collectors may soon be able to choose currently fills twooffices at Kranz's home.

DescribesKranz, "The downstairs office contains the photographs I treasure, my jethelmet, pictures of my aircraft from Korea, my leaders and team members plusframed awards. The bookcase contains about 20 mugs, my collection of militaryand aviation books, airplane models that I have flown, various medals, etc. Oneof the most treasured is a postcard with the 'Blue Max', sent to me afterApollo XI by Bernie Lay the author of Twelve O'clock High. On my desk is abronze statue of [Apollo 13 astronaut] Jack Swigert, a History of AviationTrophy and a 4-foot Saturn V Model."

"Theupstairs office contains mostly aviation pictures, awards, models and giftsfrom various military groups including the Golden Knights Parachute Team, apiece of the wall of the Pentagon from 9/11, a Gunners Mug from Iraq, sand fromKoh Tang Island - the last battle of the Vietnam War, and heat shield plugsfrom Apollo IX and XI mounted in epoxy," continued Kranz.

Otheritems in the Kranz collection include four filing cabinets of missiondocumentation and his journals and schedules spanning his entire career.

"Ialso have my American flag that hung in Mission Control during Gemini, thekeyset from my Flight Director console, parts from various spacecraft and acouple of Captain Refsmmat posters from the Apollo days." [Ed.REFSMMAT or "Reference to Stable Member Matrix" was a term used bycontrollers to determine spacecraft position data. Captain Refsmmat was aKilroy-type character drawn by the guidance, navigation/control and flight dynamicsteams as the "ideal mission controller".]


In-"vest"-ing in history

Theinitial offerings, which were posted for sale on FRC's website this morning,include a choice of Kranz's Mission Control access badges, mugs, ashtrays,certificates and medallions. Prices range from less than $100 up to a fewthousand dollars for rare or flown artifacts.

"Gene'sMission Control badges and a presentation that includes a completely intactflown STS-1 Thermal Tile are standouts," commented Steve Hankow, FRC'sfounder and sole proprietor. "There are a number of great items - somerare or one of a kind - in all price ranges, making this a sale for anycollector of space history, regardless of budget."

Kranzconsiders his trademark mission vests among his most valuable possessions. Onesuch example, that he wore during Apollo 15, 16 and 17 will soon be offered aspart of FRC's sale.

OthersKranz has donated to museums.

"Idonated my Apollo XIII vest permanently to the Smithsonian, and the Apollo XVIIis on display in Space Center Houston."

Thestory behind the vests may be as priceless as the garment's themselves.

"Itwas my wife's idea," Kranz remembers. "She made scarves for many ofthe pilots in my squadrons and recognized the connection between pilots,squadron insignia and scarves. When the time came to form my first [MissionControl] team I was looking to identify a unique identity. My team color waswhite, I always wore a three piece suit with vest, so Marta suggested that sheshould make a white vest."

"Shemade it, I wore it and it became a tradition."

Spirit of the season

Kranzmade the decision to sell now after a storm-forced evacuation led him to assesshis belongings.

"Duringthe evacuation for Hurricane Rita I had to leave behind about 90% of my collection,"wrote Kranz in an e- mail interview with collectSPACE.com."Driving home from San Antonio I thought of the possible loss to spacehistory, collectors, museums, etc."

Kranz, who has been activein charity fundraising since his retirement realized he could help others inthe process of finding new homes for his memorabilia.

"Sinceretirement I started a charitable gift fund for scholarships, do fund raisingfor Habitat for Humanity, and various aviation museums," explained Kranz."Most recently our local church is starting a building fund. All profitsfrom the sale of this group of memorabilia will go to the Shrine of the True Cross Church in Dickinson, TX."

Treasured gifts, lost logs and small steps

Kranzmay be selling his career's mementos, but it is something less tangible that hesays he treasures most.

"Theone thing that I treasured most was the respect of my peers. Mission Control isan elite group with powerful chemistry and a genuine love for each other."

Thatsaid, there is an item he wishes he still had.

"I would also liked tohave obtained the Flight Director Logs from our missions but we got into abattle with NASA legal that said they were government property," recountsKranz. "They have subsequently been lost."

Asfor the memorabilia he does have, Kranz says that he will watch how this firstcrop performs on the market and then decide how to proceed further. He alsofeels that for some items, a museum exhibit is merited.

"Thereare several items that I believe belong back in the Mission Control Center if I could convince them to setup a museum or ready room for theirdisplay," poses Kranz.

Copyright 2005 collectSPACE.com. All rights reserved.

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Robert Z. Pearlman
collectSPACE.com Editor, Space.com Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.