– OUT OF THIS WORLD –

• The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is named after James Webb, but who was James Webb? Short answer, he was the second administrator of NASA and oversaw NASA from the beginning of the Kennedy administration through the end of the Johnson administration, watching over each one of the critical first crewed missions: Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo.

• James Webb was born in 1906 in North Carolina. He became a Marine Corps pilot at a young age. Then he got a law degree. Next he worked his way up the ladder of a company called Sperry Gyroscope, a major supplier of navigation equipment and airborne radar systems used during World War II. He reentered the Marine Corps in 1944 where he was in charge of a radar program. When the war ended, he went into government service, filling a variety of positions before finally being appointed Undersecretary of State.

• In 1961, Webb accepted President Kennedy’s appointment as administrator of NASA. NASA was formed in 1958.    Webb’s job was to follow Kennedy’s directive to put a man the Moon before the end of the decade.

• During Webb’s administration, NASA developed from a loose collection of research centers to a solidly coordinated organization. He had a key role in creating the Manned Spacecraft Center, later re-named the Johnson Space Center, in Houston. Despite the pressures to focus exclusively on the Apollo program, Webb instead ensured that NASA carried out a program of planetary exploration with the Mariner and Pioneer space programs.

The Boot Shop Outlet

• The Pioneer program, which started under Webb in 1965 and ran until 1992, included one probe sent to fly by the Moon, and another that explored the region between Earth and Venus.

• The Mariner program designed ten interplanetary probes built to explore the inner Solar System. Of the ten vehicles, seven were successful, and included a number of firsts: the first planetary flyby, planetary orbiter, and gravity assist maneuver.

• In 1967, a cabin fire during a launch rehearsal test at Cape Kennedy killed all three Apollo 1 crew members and destroyed the command module. Webb stepped up for NASA, heading up the investigation and refusing to pass the blame. Webb reported the investigation board’s findings to congressional committees and took personal blame at nearly every meeting. By doing so, he managed to deflect the backlash away 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 a Democrat tied closely to Johnson. When Johnson chose not to run for reelection, Webb decided to step down as administrator to allow the next president, Republican Richard Nixon, to choose his own administrator. He left NASA in October 1968.

• By the time Webb retired just a few months before the first moon landing in July 1969, NASA had launched more than 75 space science missions.

• In 1969, Johnson presented Webb with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

• Webb died from a heart attack in 1992 at age 85 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

• NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), originally known as the Next Generation Space Telescope, was renamed in Webb’s honor in 2002. Many feel that James Webb, who ran NASA as it developed from a fledgling space agency to a scientific powerhouse, did more for science than perhaps any other government official.