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Stuff of Legends

April 3, 2019

What is the most exciting thing 75 interns did at NASA’s Johnson Space Center on March 27? They heard the “stuff of legends!” These legends walk among us, sharing stories that have become white noise against the current backdrop of creativity and technological demands.

Gene Kranz is one such legend. He shared how humans have used their minds in ways most find inconceivable. Technology was rudimentary at best, and a man’s brain was a tool far superior for solving complex problems. Kranz recounted how Apollo 11 would become the mission that changed the face of human spaceflight—not only because it landed man on the Moon, but because it would stretch all that we knew about survival. It showed us how our greatest achievements are born when weighing human life in the balance.

For a brief period, interns silenced the devices competing for their attention as they learned why the Apollo 13 mission never made it to the Moon. They heard of catastrophic failure, an explosion, human will and insurmountable odds. Most importantly, they learned what humankind can accomplish when pressed the hardest. Engineers became masterminds, high-level math did not happen on an iPhone and determination had no set limits. The people before them made split-second decisions and shouldered an unmeasurable weight of responsibility. Their decisions would affect the lives of present and future generations. Would they, one day, be called to do the same?

One intern moved by Kranz’s talk was Maria Garcia-Robles, who enjoyed hearing Kranz pepper his words of wisdom with personal anecdotes about watershed moments during NASA’s riveting history.

“He told us about his determination that the tragedy would not repeat … how he instructed his team to write on their whiteboards and leave up forever, ‘Tough and competent, to never take anything for granted and never stop learning,’” Garcia-Robles said.

Though far removed from the events of the Apollo program, the interns learned that those who laid the foundation of our space program are not ghosts, and that their experiences continue to challenge all that we know … all that we believe … and the direction we now take. That day, they learned what it takes to become a legend.


Missy Matthias

NASA Johnson Space Center

NASA legend Gene Kranz imparts advice for interns at NASA's Johnson Space Center.
NASA legend Gene Kranz imparts advice for interns at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Image courtesy of Johnson interns.