AB9IL.net: The Foundations of Mission Operations

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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.

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


Being able to follow as well as to lead, knowing that we must master ourselves before we can master our task.


There being no substitute for total preparation and complete dedication, for space will not tolerate the careless or indifferent.


Believing in ourselves as well as others, knowing that we must master fear and hesitation before we can succeed.


Realizing that it cannot be shifted to others, for it belongs to each of us; we must answer for what we do, or fail to do.


Taking a stand when we must; to try again, and again, even if it means following a more difficult path.


Respecting and utilizing the abilities of others, realizing that we work toward a common goal, for success depends upon the efforts of all.


Always attentive to the dangers of spaceflight; never accepting success as a substitute for rigor in everything we do.

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:


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.


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

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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