Biographies of Key Apollo Managers and Administrative Figures
Kurt Debus | Hugh
Dryden | Max Faget | Eilene
Kurt Debus—Kurt H. Debus (1908-1983) earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering (1933), an M.S. (1935) and Ph.D. (1939) in electrical engineering, all from the Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany. He became an assistant professor at the university after receiving his degree. During the course of World War II he became an experimental engineer at the A-4 (V-2) test stand at Peenemünde (see entry for Wernher von Braun), rising to become superintendent of the test stand and test firing stand for the rocket. In 1945 he came to the United States with a group of engineers and scientists headed by von Braun. From 1945 to 1950 the group worked at Fort Bliss, Texas, and then moved to the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. From 1952 to 1960 Debus was chief of the missile firing laboratory of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency. In this position, he was located at Cape Canaveral, Florida, where he supervised the launching of the first ballistic missile fired from there, an Army Redstone. When ABMA became part of NASA, Debus continued to supervise missile and space vehicle launchings, first as director of the Launch Operations Center and then of the Kennedy Space Center as it was renamed in December 1963. He retired from that position in 1974.
Hugh Dryden—Hugh Latimer Dryden (1898-1965) placed his unique imprint on the development of aerospace technology in the United States by serving as associate director for aeronautics of the National Bureau of Standards, 1918-1947; director of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) from 1947 until the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958; and deputy administrator of the new aerospace agency when it was created in response to the Sputnik crisis.
Born on 2 July 1898, in Pocomoke City, Maryland, the son of Samuel Isaac and Nova Hill Culver Dryden, Dryden was reared in Baltimore, where he attended the public schools and was graduated with honors. Dryden earned his way through Johns Hopkins University, completing the four-year bachelor of arts course in three years, again graduating with honors in 1918.
Influenced by Dr. Joseph S. Ames, for many years chairman of the NACA and himself a pioneer in aerodynamics, Dryden undertook a study of fluid dynamics at the Bureau of Standards while continuing his courses at the Johns Hopkins University Graduate School. His laboratory work was accepted by the university when it granted him in 1919 the Ph.D. degree.
Dryden was promoted in 1920 to head the Bureau's Aerodynamics Section. In 1924, collaborating with Dr. Lyman J. Briggs, he made some of the earliest studies of airfoil characteristics near the speed of sound. With A. M. Kuethe, in 1929 he published the first of a series of papers on the measurement of turbulence in wind tunnels and on the mechanics of boundary layer flow. Dryden proved this first set of studies was no fluke and gained a reputation as a leading aeronautical scientist with several other studies in turbulence and control of the boundary layer. It was natural that, when selected to deliver the 1938 Wright Brothers lecture before the Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences (the first American so honored), he chose the subject "Turbulence and the Boundary Layer," a major issue in flight aerodynamics at the time.
In World War II he served on several technical groups advising the Armed Forces on aeronautical matters and guided missiles. As head of a Washington project for the National Defense Research Committee, he led development of this country’s first guided missile successfully used in combat, the radar-homing Bat. This achievement won him the Presidential Certificate of Merit in 1948. He also served on other committees advising the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the NACA, the Army Ordnance Department, and the Army Air Forces (AAF) on guided missiles. Following the end of war he continued his interest in the Bureau's guided-missile development programs.
In 1945 Dryden was made deputy scientific director of the AAF Scientific Advisory Group, which was to prepare a report as a guide for future AAF research and development programs. With this group he traveled to Germany, France, England, and Switzerland studying foreign scientific efforts in the development of aeronautics and aerial weapons, especially guided missiles. There he became acquainted firsthand with the significant efforts of Germany during the war in jet and rocket weaponry, and his reports for the AAF emphasized the need for the United States to invest in these arenas for postwar defense.
Even as he was completing these studies, in 1947 Dryden resigned from the Bureau of Standards to become Director of Aeronautical Research at the NACA. Two years later the agency gave him added responsibilities and the new title of Director. In this capacity he had charge of an expanding research organization with some 8,000 employees, three large laboratories, and two smaller research stations.
During his tenure, Dryden wrote seventeen technical reports for the NACA relating directly to his research in aerodynamics. Additionally, the results of his work appeared in several professional and trade journals. All of these dealt with the properties of airfoils at high speeds, wind-tunnel investigations, boundary layer and turbulence, noise suppression, and other aeronautical matters. He also served as editor of the Journal of the Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences from 1941 to 1956.
More importantly, during the period of his tenure as NACA director, Dryden guided the organization into pivotal research and development in high-speed flight and rocketry. He fostered the pathbreaking research projects of the X-1, which flew faster than the speed of sound in 1947, and the X-15 hypersonic research vehicle of the 1950s and 1960s. He also opened the door for rocketry research by supporting the efforts of the Space Task Group at the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, Hampton, Virginia, in the 1950s.
At the time of NASA’s creation in 1958, and the folding of the old NACA into that new organization, Dryden became the deputy administrator for T. Keith Glennan, Eisenhower’s appointee for the top position. In that capacity he handled the day-to-day operations of the agency and oversaw its technical efforts. Dryden threw himself into the intricacies of spaceflight with even greater zeal than before. The conception and planning of Project Mercury, for instance, bore his mark from the very inception, for he forced it to hew a strong relationship to the scientific component. This meant that the program was neither as spectacular nor as swift as those who wanted to race the Soviet Union into space would have liked, but it yielded more knowledge about the rigors of spaceflight because of his leadership.
When the Kennedy administration designated James E. Webb for NASA administrator in 1961, Dryden stayed on as his deputy and provided a measure of stability in an organization rapidly changing to carry out Project Apollo. He found it possible to make such contributions because he and Webb had established clearly defined spheres of operation. The administrator accepted as his highest priority to lobby and win the support of Washington's political elite for the space program as well as to convince the voting public of its value. The two men shared responsibility for the broad policy direction of the agency but to Dryden fell the hardest decisions involving technical and fiscal choices: which systems and subsystems to fund or to eliminate, to accept as presented or to modify; which scientific experiments to pursue; how to structure programs for maximum utility; how to obtain the cooperation of universities, corporations, and foreign powers; and how to prepare and present budgets to congressional committees.
Dryden worked diligently at NASA throughout the first half of the 1960s, serving as deputy administrator until his death on 2 December 1965. His quiet oversight of the agency helped immeasurably in keeping it on track; his death was a blow both to the life of the agency and to the conduct of Project Apollo. Robert C. Seamans, Jr., the third man in the NASA leadership during this period believed that had Dryden lived longer his watchfulness would have foreseen the disaster of the Apollo 204 capsule fire in January 1967, and he would have taken steps to avoid the calamity.
A man almost totally devoid of vices, many at the space agency understood Dryden’s calm devotion to his God beforehand, but upon his death they learned just how intense his religious convictions had been as numerous eulogies, even more than most, explained how he had incorporated his religion into his daily life. He had long been active in the work of the Men's Bible Class of the Calvary Methodist Church in Washington. More than that, he had held a Methodist preacher's license since his college days and had engaged in significant Christian activity throughout his life.
Max Faget—Maxime A. Faget (1921- ), an aeronautical engineer with a B.S. from LSU (1943), joined the staff at Langley Aeronautical Laboratory in 1946 and soon became head of the performance aerodynamics branch of the pilotless aircraft research division. There, he conducted research on the heat shield of the Mercury spacecraft. In 1958 he joined the Space Task Group at NASA, forerunner of the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center that became the Johnson Space Center, and he became its assistant director for engineering and development in 1962 and later its director. He contributed many of the original design concepts for Project Mercury’s manned spacecraft and played a major role in designing virtually every U.S. crewed spacecraft since that time, including the Space Shuttle. He retired from NASA in 1981 and became an executive for Eagle Engineering, Inc. In 1982 he was one of the founders of Space Industries, Inc., and became its president and chief executive officer.
Eilene Galloway—Eilene Galloway (1906- ) served on the staff of the Congressional Research Service (formerly the Legislative Reference Service), Library of Congress, as national defense analyst from 1951 to 1966, and from 1966 to 1975 as senior specialist in international relations (national security). In this connection, she was appointed special consultant to the Senate Special Commiittee on Space and Astronautics in 1958, the Senate Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences from 1958 to 1977, and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation from 1977 to 1982. She participated in the legislative process of the Space Act of 1958.
Bob Gilruth—Robert R. Gilruth (1913- ) was a longtime NACA engineer working at the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory from 1937 to 1946, then as chief of the pilotless aircraft research division at Wallops Island from 1946 to 1952, who had been exploring the possibility of human spaceflight before the creation of NASA. He served as assistant director at Langley from 1952 to 1959 and as assistant director (manned satellites) and head of Project Mercury from 1959 to 1961, technically assigned to the Goddard Space Flight Center but physically located at Langley. In early 1961, T. Keith Glennan established an independent Space Task Group (already the group's name as an independent subdivision of Goddard) under Gilruth at Langley to supervise the Mercury program. This group moved to the Manned Spacecraft Center, Houston, Texas, in 1962. Gilruth was then director of the Houston operation from 1962 to 1972.
Brainerd Holmes—D. Brainard Holmes (1921- ) was involved in the management of high technology efforts in private industry and the federal government. He was on the staff of Bell Telephone Labs, 1945-1953, and at RCA, 1953-1961. He then became deputy associate administrator for manned space flight at NASA, 1961-1963. Thereafter, he assumed a series of increasingly senior positions with Raytheon Corp., and since 1982, chairman of Beech Aircraft.
John Houbolt—John C. Houbolt (1919- ) was an engineer who worked as an aircraft structures specialist at NASA’s Langley Research Center. After President Kennedy announced his 1961 decision to put an American on the Moon, Houbolt was instrumental in the technical decision to adopt the lunar-orbit rendezvous approach for the Apollo program. Houbolt left NASA in 1963 for the private sector, but returned to Langley in 1976 before retiring in 1985.
Chris Kraft—Christopher C. Kraft, Jr. (1924- ), was a long-standing official with NASA throughout the Apollo program. He received as B.S. in aeronautical engineering from Virginia Polytechnic University in 1944 and joined the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) the next year. In 1958, still at Langley, he became a member of the Space Task Group developing Project Mercury and moved with the group to Houston in 1962. He was flight director for all of the Mercury and many of the Gemini missions and directed the design of Mission Control at the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC), redesignated the Johnson Space Center in 1973. He was named the MSC deputy director in 1970 and its director two years later, a position he held until his retirement in 1982. Since then he has remained active as an aerospace consultant.
Gene Kranz—Eugene F. Kranz (1933- ) was born in Toledo, Ohio, on August 17, 1933. He was schooled at Parks College of St. Louis, Missouri, in 1954 and received a BS in aeronautical engineering. Before his work with NASA, he was an Air Force captain (1955-1958), flight test loads engineer, McDonnell Aircraft Corporation (1954-1955), pilot in U.S. Air Force (1955-1958), and flight test engineer and supervisor of carrier and missile system flight test maintenance and checkout at the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation at the Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico (1958-1960). He joined NASA in 1960 in the Flight Control Operations Branch, NASA Space Task Group, at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia (1960-1964). In time he rose to become chief of the Flight Control Operations Branch, Mercury assistant flight director, Gemini flight director (1964-1968), chief of the Flight Control Division, Apollo flight director, and Skylab flight operations director (1969-1974), deputy director of flight operations, Space Transportation System (STS) mission operations director (1974-1983), and finally eirector of mission operations of the STS (1983-1994).
George Low—George M. Low (1926-1974) was born on June 10, 1926, near Vienna, Austria. His parents were Artur and Gertrude Burger Low, small business people in Austria. With the German occupation of Austria in 1938, four years after Artur Low's death, his family emigrated to the United States. In 1943, Low graduated from Forest Hills High School, Forest Hills, New York, and entered Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). His education was interrupted by the war and from 1944 to 1946, in which he served in the U.S. Army. While doing so, he became a naturalized American citizen, and legally changed his name from George Wilhelm Low to George Michael Low.
After military service Low returned to RPI and received his bachelor of aeronautical engineering degree in 1948. He then worked at General Dynamics (Convair) in Fort Worth, Texas, as a mathematician in an aerodynamics group. Low returned to RPI late in 1948, however, and received his master of science degree in aeronautical engineering in 1950. In 1949, he married Mary Ruth McNamara of Troy, New York. Between 1952 and 1963, they had five children: Mark S., Diane E., George David, John M., and Nancy A.
After completing his M.S. degree, Low joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) as an engineer at the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland, Ohio (later the Lewis Research Center). He became head of the Fluid Mechanics Section (1954-1956) and chief of the Special Projects Branch (1956-1958). Low specialized in experimental and theoretical research in the fields of heat transfer, boundary layer flows, and internal aerodynamics. In addition, he worked on such space technology problems as orbit calculations, reentry paths, and space rendezvous techniques.
During the summer and autumn of 1958, preceding the formation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Low worked on a planning team to organize the new aerospace agency. Soon after NASA's formal organization in October 1958, Low transferred to the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C., where he served as chief of manned space flight. In this capacity, he was closely involved in the planning of Projects Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo.
In February 1964, Low transferred to NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas (now the Johnson Space Center), and served as deputy center director. In April 1967, following the Apollo 204 fire, he was named manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office, where he was responsible for directing the changes to the Apollo spacecraft necessary to make it flightworthy.
George Low became NASA Deputy Administrator in December 1969, serving with Administrators Thomas O. Paine and James C. Fletcher. As such, he became one of the leading figures in the early development of the Space Shuttle, the Skylab program, and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.
He retired from NASA in 1976 to become president of RPI, a position he still held at his death. He died of cancer on July 17, 1984.
George Mueller—George E. Mueller (1918- ) was associate administrator for the Office of Manned Space Flight at NASA Headquarters, 1963-1969, where he was responsible for overseeing the completion of Project Apollo and of beginning the development of the Space Shuttle. After NASA he became senior vice president of General Dynamics Corp. in 1969, remaining until 1971. He moved on to become Chairman and President of System Development Corporation, 1971-1980, becoming Chairman and CEO, 1981-1983. He went on to become President of Jojoba Propagation Laboratories, and Chairman of Desert King Jojoba Corporation, until 1995 when he joined Kistler Aerospace Corporation. He is currently President and CEO of Kistler.
Rocco Petrone—Rocco Petrone (1926- ) was heavily involved at NASA with the development of the Saturn V booster used to launch Apollo spacecraft to the Moon in the 1960s and early 1970s. He worked at the Marshall Space Flight Center and became its director in 1973. He left Marshall in 1974 for a position at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., in 1974, and retired from the agency in 1975. He than became president and chief executive officer of the National Center for Resource Recovery.
Sam Phillips—Samuel C. Phillips (1921-1990) trained as an electrical engineer at the University of Wyoming, but he also participated in the Civilian Pilot Training Program during World War II. Upon his graduation in 1942 Phillips entered the Army infantry but soon transferred to the air component. As a young pilot he served with distinction in the Eighth Air Force in England—earning two distinguished flying crosses, eight air medals, and the French croix de guerre—but he quickly became interested in aeronautical research and development. He became involved in the development of the incredibly successful B-52 bomber in the early 1950s and headed the Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile program in the latter part of the decade. In 1964 Phillips, by this time an Air Force general, was lent to NASA to head the Apollo Moon landing program, which, of course, was unique in its technological accomplishment. He went back to the Air Force in the 1970s and commanded the Air Force Systems Command prior to his retirement in 1975.
Robert Seamans—Dr. Robert C. Seamans, Jr. (1918- ), was born on October 30, 1918, in Salem, Massachusetts. He attended Lenox School, Lenox, Massachusetts. He earned a bachelor of science degree in engineering at Harvard University in 1939; a master of science degree in aeronautics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1942; and a doctor of science degree in instrumentation from MIT in 1951. Dr. Seamans also received the following honorary degrees: doctor of science from Rollins College (1962) and from New York University (1967) and doctor of engineering from Norwich Academy (1971), from Notre Dame (1974), and from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in 1974.
From 1941 to 1955 he held teaching and project positions at MIT during which time he worked on aeronautical problems, including instrumentation and control of airplanes and missiles. Positions that he held at MIT included: instructor (1941-1945), assistant professor (1945-1950), and associate professor (1950-1955), Department of Aeronautical Engineering; project engineer, Instrumentation Laboratory; chief engineer, Project Meteor; and director, Flight Control Laboratory.
Dr. Seamans joined the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in 1955 as manager of the Airborne Systems Laboratory and chief systems engineer of the Airborne Systems Department. In 1958, he became chief engineer of the Missile Electronics and Controls Division at RCA in Burlington, Massachusetts.
From 1948 to 1958, Dr. Seamans also served on technical committees of NASA's predecessor organization, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. He served as a consultant to the Scientific Advisory Board of the U.S. Air Force from 1957 to 1959, as a member of the board from 1959 to 1962, and as an associate advisor from 1962 to 1967. He was a national delegate, Advisory Group for Aerospace Research and Development (NATO), from 1966 to 1969.
In 1960, Dr. Seamans joined NASA as Associate Administrator. In 1965, he became Deputy Administrator, retaining many of the general management-type responsibilities of the Associate Administrator and also serving as Acting Administrator. During his years at NASA he worked closely with the Department of Defense in research and engineering programs and served as co-chairman of the Aeronautics and Astronautics Coordinating Board. Through these associations, NASA was kept aware of military developments and technical needs of the Department of Defense, and Dr. Seamans was able to advise that agency of NASA activities that had application to national security.
In January 1968 he resigned from NASA to become a visiting professor at MIT and in July 1968 was appointed to the Jerome Clarke Hunsaker professorship, an MIT-endowed visiting professorship in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, named in honor of the founder of the Aeronautical Engineering Department. During this period with MIT, he was also a consultant to the Administrator of NASA.
In 1969 he became Secretary of the U.S. Air Force, serving until 1973. Dr. Seamans was also president of the National Academy of Engineering from May 1973 to December 1974, when he became the first Administrator of the new Energy Research and Development Administration. He returned to MIT in 1977, becoming dean of its School of Engineering in 1978. In 1981 he was elected chair of the board of trustees of Aerospace Corp.
Dr. Seamans and his wife, Eugenia A. Merrill, have five children (Katherine Padulo, Robert C. III, Joseph, May Baldwin, and Daniel) and twelve grandchildren.
Joe Shea—Joseph Shea (1926-1999) joined NASA Headquarters’ Office of Manned Space Flight in 1962. The next year, he was named the Apollo program manager at NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston. In 1967 he moved to NASA Headquarters as deputy associate administrator for manned space flight. He joined the Raytheon Company in 1968 and served on the NASA Advisory Council for several years. Shea returned to NASA as head of Space Station redesign efforts in the early 1990s and also served as chairman of a task force that reviewed plans for the first servicing mission of the Hubble Space Telescope. He is currently an adjunct professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Abe Silverstein—Abe Silverstein (1908- ) had worked with the NACA since 1929, and when NASA was created, he came to its headquarters as director of the Office of Space Flight Development (later, Space Flight Programs). At NASA Headquarters he helped create and direct the efforts leading to the spaceflights of Project Mercury and establish the technical basis for the Apollo program. He became the director of NASA's Lewis Research Center in 1960 and oversaw a major expansion of the center and the development of the Centaur launch vehicle. He retired from NASA in 1970 to take a position with Republic Steel Corp.
Floyd Thompson—Floyd L. Thompson (1898-1976) served in the Navy for four years after 1917 and entered the University of Michigan, earning a B.S. degree in aeronautical engineering in June 1926. He then joined the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory as part of a staff of only about 150. He worked in the Flight Research Division, where he was author or co-author of more than 20 technical reports. He became chief of the division in 1940 and assistant chief of research for all of Langley in 1943. From 1945 to 1952 he served as chief of research before becoming associate director of the center in 1952 and director in 1960. He was briefly a special assistant to the NASA Administrator in 1968 before retiring later that year.
Werner von Braun—Werner von Braun (1912-1977) was one of the most important rocket developers and champions of space exploration during the period between the 1930s and the 1970s. The son of a minor German noble, Magnus Maximilian von Braun, the young spaceflight enthusiast was born in Wilintz, Germany, on 23 March 1912. As a youth he became enamored with the possibilities of space exploration by reading the science fiction of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and the science fact writings of Hermann Oberth, whose 1923 classic study, Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen (By Rocket to Space), prompted young von Braun to master calculus and trigonometry so he could understand the physics of rocketry.
From his teenage years, von Braun had held a keen interest in spaceflight, becoming involved in the German rocket society, Verein fur Raumschiffarht (VfR), as early as 1929. As a means of furthering his desire to build large and capable rockets, in 1932 he went to work for the German army to develop ballistic missiles. When Hitler came to power in 1933, von Braun remained in Germany and continued to work for the army.
While engaged in this work, on 27 July 1934 von Braun received a Ph.D in aerospace engineering. Throughout the 1930s von Braun continued to develop rockets for the German army, and by 1941 designs had been developed for the ballistic missile that eventually became the V-2. The brainchild of Wernher von Braun's rocket team operating at a secret laboratory at Peenemünde on the Baltic coast, this rocket was the immediate antecedent of those used in space exploration programs in the United States and the Soviet Union. A liquid propellant missile extending some 46 feet in length and weighing 27,000 pounds, the V-2 flew at speeds in excess of 3,500 miles per hour and delivered a 2,200-pound warhead to a target 500 miles away. First flown in October 1942, it was employed against targets in Europe beginning in September 1944. On the sixth, for instance, more than 6,000 Germans deployed to Holland and northern Germany to bomb Belgium, France, and London with those newly developed two V-2s.
Beginning on 8 September 1944 these forces began launching V-2s against allied cities, especially Antwerp, Belgium, and London, England. By the end of the war 1,155 had been fired against England and another 1,675 had been launched against Antwerp and other continental targets. The guidance system for these missiles was imperfect and many did not reach their targets, but they struck without warning and there was no defense against them. As a result the V-2s had a terror factor far beyond their capabilities.
By the beginning of 1945 it was obvious to von Braun that Germany would not achieve victory against the Allies, and he began planning for the postwar era. Before the Allied capture of the V-2 rocket complex, von Braun engineered the surrender of 500 of his top rocket scientists, along with plans and test vehicles, to the Americans. For fifteen years after World War II, von Braun would work with the U.S. Army in the development of ballistic missiles.
Because of the intriguing nature of the V-2 technology, von Braun and his chief assistants achieved near-celebrity status inside the American military establishment. As part of a military operation called Project Paperclip, he and his "rocket team" were scooped up from defeated Germany and sent to America where they were installed at Fort Bliss, Texas. There they worked on rockets for the U.S. Army, lauching them at White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico. In 1950 von Braun's team moved to the Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Alabama, where they built the Army's Jupiter ballistic missile, and before that the Redstone, used by NASA to launch the first Mercury capsules. In 1960 his rocket development center transferred from the Army to the newly established NASA and received a mandate to build the giant Saturn rockets, the largest of this family of launchers that eventually put an American on the Moon. Accordingly, von Braun became director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and the chief architect of the Saturn V launch vehicle, the superbooster that propelled Americans to the Moon in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Von Braun also became one of the most prominent spokesmen of space exploration in United States in the 1950s. In 1952 he gained note as a participant in a major symposium dedicated to the subject, and burst upon the nation's stage in the fall of 1952 with a series of articles in Collier's, a major weekly periodical of the era. He also became a household name with his appearance on three Disney television shows dedicated to space exploration in the mid-1950s.
In 1970 NASA leadership asked von Braun to move to Washington, D.C., to head up the strategic planning effort for the agency. He left his home in Huntsville, Alabama, but in less than two years he decided to retire from NASA and to go to work for Fairchild Industries of Germantown, Maryland. He died in Alexandria, Virginia, on 16 June 1977.
James Webb—James Edwin Webb (1906-1992) was the second Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, formally established on October 1, 1958, under the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958.
Born on October 7, 1906, in Granville County, North Carolina, he was the son of John Frederick and Sarah Gorham Webb. His father was superintendent of schools in Granville County for 26 years. 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 was educated at the University of North Carolina, where he received an A.B. in education 1928. He also studied law at George Washington University and was admitted to the Bar of the District of Columbia in 1936.
He enjoyed a long career in public service, coming to Washington in 1932 and serving as secretary to Congressman Edward W. Pou, 4th North Carolina District, chairman of House Rules Committee, until 1934. He then served as assistant in the office of O. Max Gardner, attorney and former governor of South Carolina, in Washington, D.C., between 1934 and 1936. In 1936, Webb became secretary-treasurer and later vice president of the Sperry Gyroscope Company in Brooklyn, New York, before entering the U.S. Marine Corps in 1944.
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 Webb to serve as Under Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State. When the Truman administration ended early in 1953, Webb left Washington for a position in the Kerr-McGee Oil Corp. in Oklahoma.
James Webb returned to Washington on February 14, 1961, when he accepted the position of Administrator of NASA. Under his direction the agency undertook one of the most impressive projects in history, the goal of landing an American on the Moon before the end of the decade through the execution of Project Apollo.
For seven years after President Kennedy's May 25, 1961, lunar landing announcement, through October 1968, James Webb politicked, coaxed, cajoled, and maneuvered for NASA in Washington. As a longtime Washington insider he was a master at bureaucratic politics. In the end, through a variety of methods Administrator Webb built a seamless web of political liaisons that brought continued support for and resources to accomplish the Apollo Moon landing on the schedule President Kennedy had announced.
Webb was in the leadership of NASA when tragedy struck the Apollo program. On January 27, 1967, Apollo-Saturn (AS) 204, was on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, moving through simulation tests when a flash fire killed the three astronauts aboard—"Gus" Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee.
Shock gripped NASA and the nation during the days that followed. James Webb told the media at the time, "We've always known that something like this was going to happen soon or later. . . who would have thought that the first tragedy would be on the ground?" As the nation mourned, Webb went to President Lyndon Johnson and 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 these findings to various congressional committees and took a personal grilling at nearly every meeting. While the ordeal was personally taxing, whether by happenstance or design, Webb deflected much of the backlash over the fire from both NASA as an agency and from the Johnson administration. While he was personally tarred with the disaster, the space agency's image and popular support were largely undamaged. He 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. He died on March 27, 1992.