Ask NASA legend Chris Kraft if country has political will to tackle gnawing problems like energy and deficits or aggressively explore deep space just as nation galvanized around the moon missions in the 1960s and you'll get a straight answer.
"No! The country is too damn political. Everything is partisan. We just don't seem to be able to [rally around solutions to problems], " the outspoken Kraft said in an interview at the The Giant Leaps Symposium at MIT this week celebrating the 40th annivesary of Apollo 11.
Can President Obama can galvanize the country?
"He is a superb orator and has a chance to be a great leader, but it all depends on the people you have around you," he said. Without unceasing support from the president, Congress and the public, Apollo and previous space programs never would have happened. Regretfully, I missed JFK speech writer's Ted Sorensen's talk before Kraft came on whe he addressed how he advocated for the moon missions with the President (I managed to get a photo).
Of course, there's a tendency to judge the present more harshly than the past whose problems for better or worse are resolved. But Kraft conquered many life and death challenges over others in his storied years at NASA.
Dr. Christopher C. Kraft Jr., now 85, was NASA's first flight director and directed the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions once they were off he launchpad. A confessed story teller, Kraft said he did enjoy have the luxuries that launch crews has.
They, he said, could simply go out the pad and replace a part. Rather, he had to deal with problems once they were launched which was much more challenging. When a switch failed, he confessed that he would instruct the astronauts to "cut the wire" or use a hammer. "And it worked," he said.
Kraft also cleared up a common misperception for me. Many thought it he who did the countdown to launch, "ten, nine, seven, six, five, four, three, ...." and so forth. I knew it wasn't him, but several attending the conference did and wanted him to count down for old time's sake during his presentation. I always thought it was NASA public affairs officer John "Shorty" Powers.
"I only did one and that was to fire retro rockets on a flight with a chimp over New Mexico," Kraft said with a chuckle. He was reacting in the moment to bring back the problem-plagued mission early.