The Foundations of Mission Operations

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0. Introduction by Gene F. Kranz, NASA Chief Flight Director

The Foundations of Mission Operations, in its simplest description, is a set of core values and guiding principles that governs everything we do in Mission Operations, whether it is operations in Mission Control, astronaut and flight controller training, or mission planning, design and analysis work.…The Foundations were mostly born from a series of challenges and crises that the team faced in the early days – during Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo.

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1. To instill within ourselves these qualities essential to professional excellence

2. To always be aware that suddenly and unexpectedly we may find ourselves in a role where our performance has ultimate consequences.

3. To recognize that the greatest error is not to have tried and failed, but that in the trying we do not give it our best effort.

Origins of the Foundations

Atop the "series of challenges" mentioned in the introduction was the fatal fire aboard the Apollo 1 spacecraft during an exercise at the launchpad. In the wake of the fire, Kranz assembled his flight control team and defined what became known as the Kranz Dictum. The dictum assigns two mandatory and preeminent characteristics to flight controllers: toughness and competency:

Tough means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to
do.  We will never again compromise our responsibilities.  Every time we walk
into mission control, we will know what we stand for.

Competent means we will never take anything for granted.  We will never
be found short in our knowledge and in our skills.  Mission control will be

It was a failure to be tough and competent which had cost lives. It would be a failure to be tough and competent in the future which would put lives and whole programs in jeopardy. No one would be granted entry to the ranks of flight controllers without those two traits, nor would controllers remain without maintaining awareness of the human cost of lacking those traits.

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