Late NASA pioneer leaves lasting mark on Virginia Tech

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NASA’s first flight director, Chris Kraft, died Monday at 95.

He took the space program to new heights, helped design the mission control room, and lends his name to the control center inside Johnson Space Center in Houston.

His legacy extends to Virginia Tech, too, where he completed the aerospace engineering program in less than three years.

Born Christopher Columbus Kraft, Jr, in Phoebus, Virginia in 1924, graduated from VT in 1944.

Few could have guessed he’d oversee America’s first crewed spaceflight, orbital flight, and spacewalk.

“I can’t think of any alum of virginia tech who has had more impact on the world than chris kraft,” said Tom Tillar, VT’s former vice president of alumni relations.

Tillar knew Kraft personally and describes him as calm, cool, relaxed, and humble. He says Kraft was a VT commencement speaker, won an alumni distinguished achievement award, lends his name to Kraft Drive, and helped inspire some of the gifts seen in VT’s Apollo 11 special collections display.

“In fact, I sent him an email last tuesday, on the anniversary of his launch, just to say that I was thinking of him and how proud the university is of him and his career, and that he’s my hero,” he said.

Tillar says kraft was strong in his beliefs, like pushing to continue moon flights before looking to mars. He says he’s most impressed, however, with kraft’s character.

“He was presented a list of astronaut candidates – and I assume this is in the 60s – and he said to the person handing him the list ‘there are no african americans or women on this list. Give me a new list,'” he said.

Tillar tells WFXR Kraft’s pursuit of aerospace engineering may well have started with a favorite professor at VT, too.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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