- James E. Webb
James Edwin Webb (
October 7, 1906– March 27, 1992) was the second administrator of NASA, serving from February 14, 1961to October 7, 1968.
Born in Tally Ho, Granville County,
North Carolina, Webb was educated at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he received an A.B. in education in 1928 and was a member of Acacia Fraternity. He became a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps and served as a pilot on active duty from 1930-1932. He also studied law at The George Washington University Law Schoolfrom 1934-1936 and was admitted to the Bar of the District of Columbiain 1936. In 1938, he married Patsy Aiken Douglas and they had two children: Sarah Gorham, born on February 27, 1945, and James Edwin Jr., born on March 5, 1947.
Webb enjoyed a long career in public service in
Washington, D.C., first serving as secretary to North CarolinaCongressman Edward W. Pou, from 1932 until 1934. He then served as assistant in the office of O. Max Gardner, attorney and former governor of North Carolina, between 1934 and 1936. In 1936, Webb became personnel director, secretary-treasurer, and later vice president of the Sperry Gyroscope Companyin Brooklyn, New York, before re-entering the U.S. Marine Corps in 1944 during World War II.
After World War II, Webb returned to Washington and served as executive assistant to O. Max Gardner, by then Under Secretary of the Treasury, before being named as director of the Bureau of the Budget in the Executive Office of the President, a position he held until 1949. President Harry S. Truman then asked Mr. Webb to serve as Under Secretary of State in the U.S. Department of State. When the Truman administration ended early in 1953, Webb left Washington, D.C. for a position in the
Kerr-McGeeOil Corp. in Oklahoma City, Oklahomabut was still active in policy circles, for instance serving on the Draper Committeein 1958.
Administrator of NASA
Webb returned to Washington in 1961 when he accepted the position of administrator of NASA. Under his direction, the agency undertook to achieve the goal set by President Kennedy of landing an American on the Moon before the end of the decade through the execution of
Apollo program. For seven years after President Kennedy's May 25, 1961lunar landing announcement through October 1968, Webb fought for support for NASA in Washington. As a longtime Washington insider, he was ultimately able to acquire continued support for and resources to accomplish the Apollo Moon landing on the schedule President Kennedy had announced.
During his administration, NASA developed from a loose collection of research centers into a coordinated organization. Webb had a key role in creating the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) (later, the
Johnson Space Center, JSC) in Houston. Despite the pressures to focus on the Apollo program, Webb ensured that NASA carried out a meaningful program of planetary exploration with the Mariner and Pioneer programs.
Webb was in the leadership of NASA during the
Apollo 1accident in 1967. Webb told the media at the time, "We've always known that something like this was going to happen sooner or later. ... Who would have thought that the first tragedy would be on the ground?" Webb went to President Lyndon Johnsonand asked that NASA be allowed to handle the accident investigation and direct the recovery from the accident. He promised to be truthful in assessing blame and pledged to assign it to himself and NASA management as appropriate. The agency set out to discover the details of the tragedy, to correct problems, and to get back on schedule.
Webb reported his investigation's findings to various Congressional committees and took a personal grilling at nearly every meeting. Whether by happenstance or design, Webb managed to deflect much of the backlash over the accident from both NASA as an agency and from the Johnson administration. As a result, NASA's image and popular support were largely undamaged.
Webb was informed by CIA sources in 1968 that the USSR was developing its own heavy N-1 launcher for a manned lunar mission and instructed MSFC to prepare
Apollo 8. At the time Webb's assertions over the Soviet Union's abilities were doubted and the N-1 was dubbed 'Webb's Giant', but later revelations over the Soviet Moonshothave given support to Webb's foresight. Webb left NASA in October 1968, just as Apollo was nearing a successful completion.
After retiring from NASA, Webb remained in Washington, D.C., serving on several advisory boards, including as a regent of the
Smithsonian Institution. In 1981, he was awarded the prestigious Sylvanus Thayer Awardby the United States Military Academy at West Point for his dedication to the country. He died in March 1992 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
In the 1998 miniseries, "From the Earth to the Moon", Webb was played by
James Webb Space Telescopewas renamed in Webb's honor in 2002. The telescope is referred to as "the Hubble successor".
*"Portions of this article are based on
public domaintext from [http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/Biographies/webb.html NASA] ."
* [http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9396206/James-Edwin-Webb Encyclopaedia Britannica, James Edwin Webb]
*W. Henry Lambright, "Powering Apollo: James E. Webb of NASA"; Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995; ISBN 0-8018-6205-1
*Piers Bizony, "The man who ran the moon: James E Webb, NASA, and the secret history of project Apollo"; New York: Thunder's mouth press, 2006; ISBN 1-56025-751-2
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