Apollo 11 flight director to moon landing naysayers: 'Do you think we could have fooled the Russians?'

With only 17 seconds of fuel remaining, Gene Kranz helped successfully land Apollo 11 on the lunar surface 50 years ago. Thursday, he was at Purdue University.

Posted: Jul 19, 2019 11:28 AM
Updated: Jul 19, 2019 11:34 AM

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — With only 17 seconds of fuel remaining, Gene Kranz helped successfully land Apollo 11 on the lunar surface 50 years ago. Thursday, he was at Purdue University recalling those moments to a sold out crowd, just two days before the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing.

Kranz worked at NASA for 37 years and also won the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his role in safely landing Apollo 13.

So what does he think about those who deny it ever even happened?

"Do you think we could have fooled the Russians? Or the media? No! Everybody says the American flag is waving. They ought to have a shower curtain out there and see how the shower curtain ripples. I mean it's just, they're pulling your chain."

Krantz said in Mission Control, everyone was a leader. He said the Apollo 11 team in space, and on the ground, was one team. The goal never wavered; they wanted to put a man on the moon and make sure it had an American flag on it.

As the man sitting in the most important seat in Houston that day, Kranz knew he had to stay calm. He said the only thing the Apollo 11 command staff didn't train for was the reactions people would have when the module touched down.

"They erupted into cheering and stomping right on down the line, clapping," said Kranz of the people looking into Mission Control. "You could hear the sound coming through the double glass windows there, and my team has to be cool as a cucumber. Because we have a job to do. We have to make sure it's safe to stay. For the next two hours we never cracked a smile. My frustration is that I wish we could do it all over and only join the rest of the world at the time we touched-down."

Purdue alum Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon on July 20, 1969. Kranz said Armstrong was always ready for the next step of the mission.

"He always reminded me as a very thoughtful individual, very quiet professional, college professor. Very seldom raised a voice, and he always wanted to think things over before he'd say 'yes' or 'no.'"

Kranz described the lack of lunar attention in recent years as "bitter." However, he's optimistic about the future of space travel, and knows humans can return to the moon.

"I'm going to be gone by then," Kranz joked about the next 50 years. "I want an environment where nations work together. I think if you can do that, you will find colonies in space. You will find people building infrastructure in the United States you can ship up there, live in, habitat in, grow in, maybe even raise families in." 

Kranz expects Purdue to be a part of that. He has a granddaughter studying at the university right now.

"We don't send people to universities we don't believe in."

Kranz said the moon landing was remarkable, if you look at the 60s in today's context. 

"The civil rights movement was beginning, you had the environmental movement beginning, you had the Peace Corps," Kranz listed off. "People were off their couches marching for what they believed. People were doing things. I think today the greatest challenge is to get people out of their comfort zone to sign up to do risky work."

He said his people learned very quickly that there was no gray room in for the Apollo 11 mission.

"It's always black or white. Go or no go. Stay or no stay."

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