Born: 1906-10-07. Died: 1992-03-27. Birth Place: Tally Ho, North Carolina.
Educated UNC; George Washington.
Official NASA Biography
James Edwin Webb 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 Tally Ho, 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.
Mr. Webb was educated at the University of North Carolina, where he received an A.B. in education in 1928. He became a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps and served as a pilot on active duty from 1930-1932. He also studied law at George Washington University from 1934-1936 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, Chair of the 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 Mr. Webb became personnel director, secretary-treasurer and later vice president of the Sperry Gyroscope Company in Brooklyn, New York, before re-entering the U.S. Marine Corps in 1944 for World War II.
After World War II, Mr. 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, U.S. Department of State. When the Truman administration ended early in 1953, Mr. Webb left Washington for a position in the Kerr-McGee Oil Corp. in Oklahoma City, OK.
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.
Mr. 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.
Mr. 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 was largely undamaged. He left NASA in October 1968, just as Apollo was nearing a successful completion.
After retiring from NASA, Mr. 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 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetary.
Prior to entering the operational phase of Project Mercury, a decision was made by Robert R. Gilruth and James E. Webb that the astronaut selected for each flight would have the right to name his spacecraft, which is in keeping with past traditions. Therfore, the astronaut advised Robert R. Gilruth of the name of the spacecraft which he had chosen (Freedom 7 in the case of the first flight) and Mr. Gilruth, in turn, advised Mr. Webb of the name. The Federal Communications Commission was also notified of the name since the spacecraft would be using communications frequencies controlled by the Commission.
President John F. Kennedy announced that he was nominating James E. Webb as Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Hugh L. Dryden as Deputy Administrator, Senate confirmation followed on February 9 and they were sworn in on February 14.
NASA Administrator Webb issued a statement concerning the 2-year Mercury manned space flight program, which said, in part: "NASA has not attempted to encourage press coverage of the first Mercury-Redstone manned flight. It has responded to press and television requests, with the result that over 100 representatives of the press, radio, and TV are now at Cape Canaveral. . . . We must keep the perspective that each flight is but one of the many milestones we must pass. Some will completely succeed in every respect, some partially, and some will fail. From all of them will come mastery of the vast new space environment on which so much of our future depends."
Meeting with Webb/Dryden, work on Saturn C-2 stopped; preliminary design of C-3 and continuing studies of larger vehicles for landing missions requested. STG push for 4 x 6.6 m diameter solid cluster first stage rejected for safety and ground handling reasons.
NASA Administrator Webb announced that location of the new Manned Spacecraft Center would be in Houston, Tex., the conclusion of an intensive nationwide study by a site selection team. The Manned Spacecraft Center would be the command center for the manned lunar landing mission and all follow-on manned space flight missions. This announcement was the third basic decision on major facilities required for the expanded U.S. Range and the establishment of the spacecraft fabrication center at the Michoud Ordnance Plant near New Orleans, La.
NASA Administrator Webb announced major organizational changes and top-level appointments to become effective November 1. The reorganization should provide a clearer focus on major programs and allow center directors to have a louder voice in policy making. The new appointments included the following Directors of major program offices: Ira H. Abbott, Office of Advanced Research and Technology; Homer E. Newell, Office of Space Sciences; D. Brainerd Holmes, Office of Manned Space Flight; and an as yet unnamed Director of Office of Applications Programs. Also, Thomas F. Dixon was appointed Deputy Associate Administrator; Abe Silverstein was named Director of the Lewis Research Center, and Robert R. Gilruth was chosen Director of the Manned Spacecraft Center.
The Freedom 7 Mercury capsule in which Alan B. Shepard, Jr., made the first suborbital space flight, was presented to the National Air Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. In his presentation, NASA Administrator Webb said: "To Americans seeking answers, proof that man can survive in the hostile realm of space is not enough. A solid and meaningful foundation for public support and the basis for our Apollo man-in-space effort is that U.S. astronauts are going into space to do useful work in the cause of all their fellow men."
Golovin Committe studies launch vehicles through summer, but found the issue to be completely entertwined with mode (earth-orbit, lunar-orbit, lunar-surface rendezvous or direct flight. Two factions: large solids for direct flight; all-chemical with 4 or 5 F-1's in first stage for rendezvous options. In the end Webb and McNamara ordered development of C-4 and as a backup, in case of failure of F-1 in development, build of 6.1 m+ solid rocket motors by USAF.
Despite an announcement at Martin on 27 November that they had won the Apollo program, the decision was reversed at the highest levels of the US government. NASA announced instead that the Space and Information Systems Division of North American Aviation, Inc., had been selected to design and build the Apollo spacecraft. The official line: 'the decision by NASA Administrator James E. Webb followed a comprehensive evaluation of five industry proposals by nearly 200 scientists and engineers representing both NASA and DOD. Webb had received the Source Evaluation Board findings on November 24. Although technical evaluations were very close, NAA had been selected on the basis of experience, technical competence, and cost'. NAA would be responsible for the design and development of the command module and service module. NASA expected that a separate contract for the lunar landing system would be awarded within the next six months. The MIT Instrumentation Laboratory had previously been assigned the development of the Apollo spacecraft guidance and navigation system. Both the NAA and MIT contracts would be under the direction of MSC.
NASA Associate Administrator Robert C. Seamans, Jr., and DOD Deputy Director of Defense Research and Engineering John H. Rubel recommended to Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara and NASA Administrator James E. Webb that detailed arrangements for support of the Mercury Mark II spacecraft and the Atlas-Agena vehicle used in rendezvous experiments be planned directly between NASA's Office of Manned Space Flight and the Air Force and other DOD organizations. NASA's primary responsibilities would be the overall management and direction for the Mercury Mark II/ Agena rendezvous development and experiments. The Air Force responsibilities would include acting as NASA contractor for the Titan II launch vehicle and for the Atlas-Agena vehicle to be used in rendezvous experiments. DOD's responsibilities would include assistance in the provision and selection of astronauts and the provision of launch, range, and recovery support, as required by NASA.
NASA Administrator James E. Webb said in a speech in Cleveland that the United States would follow its first manned orbital flight in January 1962 with similar manned orbital flights every 60 days. These would gather data on effects of weightlessness, needed to determine the pacing of the two-man flight program later on. Mr. Webb also forecast the launching of 200 sounding rockets, 20 scientific satellites, and 2 deep-space probes in 1962.
James E. Webb, NASA Administrator, recommended to President John F. Kennedy that the Apollo program be given DX priority (highest priority in the procurement of critical materials). He also sent a memorandum to Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, Chairman of the National Aeronautics and Space Council, requesting that the Council consider advising the President to add the Apollo program to the DX priority list.
James E. Webb, NASA's new Administrator, reviewed the Gemini program. Project Gemini cost estimates at this point ($744.3 million) had increased substantially over the original estimate of $250 million. Estimated spacecraft cost had risen from $240.5 to $391.6 million; Titan II cost, from $113.0 to $161.8 million; Atlas-Agena, from $88.0 to $106.3 million; and supporting development (including the paraglider program), from $29.0 to $36.8 million. Estimated operations costs had declined from $59.0 to $47.8 million.
NASA Administrator James E. Webb announced that the Mission Control Center for future manned space flights would be located at MSC. The Center would be operational in time for Gemini rendezvous flights in 1964 and later Apollo lunar missions. The overriding factor in the choice of MSC was the existing location of the Apollo Spacecraft Project Office, the astronauts, and Flight Operations Division at Houston.
NASA announced that the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation had been selected to build the lunar excursion module of the three-man Apollo spacecraft under the direction of MSC. The contract, still to be negotiated, was expected to be worth about $350 million, with estimates as high as $1 billion by the time the project would be completed. Additional Details: here....
NASA Administrator James E. Webb, in a letter to the President, explained the rationale behind the Agency's selection of lunar orbit rendezvous (rather than either direct ascent or earth orbit rendezvous) as the mode for landing Apollo astronauts on the moon. Arguments for and against any of the three modes could have been interminable: "We are dealing with a matter that cannot be conclusively proved before the fact," Webb said. "The decision on the mode . . . had to be made at this time in order to maintain our schedules, which aim at a landing attempt in late 1967."
NASA Administrator James E. Webb and Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara signed a new agreement on Department of Defense (DOD) and NASA management responsibilities in the Cape Canaveral area. The Air Force would continue as single manager of the Atlantic Missile Range and host agency at the 15,000-acre Cape Canaveral launch area. NASA's Launch Operations Center would manage and serve as host agency at the Merritt Island Launch Area, north and west of existing DOD installations. DOD and NASA would each be responsible for their own logistics and administration in their respective areas. Specific mission functions - e.g., preparation, checkout, launch, test evaluation - would be performed by each agency in its own behalf, regardless of location. DOD retained certain fundamental range functions, including scheduling, flight safety, search and rescue operations, and downrange airlift and station operation.
Officials of the Manned Spacecraft Center made a presentation to NASA Administrator James E. Webb, outlining the benefits of continuing Project Mercury at least through the Mercury-Atlas 10 (MA-10) mission. They thought that the spacecraft was capable of much longer missions and that much could be learned about the effects of space environment from a mission lasting several days. This information could be applied to the forthcoming Projects Gemini and Apollo and could be gained rather cheaply since the MA-10 launch vehicle and spacecraft were available and nearing a flight readiness status.
Testifying before the Senate Space Committee, James E. Webb, the NASA Administrator, said: 'There will be no further Mercury shots . . .' He felt that the manned space flight energies and personnel should focus on the Gemini and Apollo programs. Thus, after a period of 4 years, 8 months, and 1 week, Project Mercury, America's first manned space flight program, came to a close.
NASA Administrator James E. Webb signed the definitive contract with North American for the development of the Apollo CSM. This followed by almost two years North American's selection as prime contractor, The $938.4 million cost-plus-fixed-fee agreement was the most valuable single research and development contract in American history. The contract called for the initial production (i.e., through May 15, 1965) of 11 mockups, 15 boilerplate vehicles, and 11 production articles.
NASA canceled four manned earth orbital flights with the Saturn I launch vehicle. Six of a series of 10 unmanned Saturn I development flights were still scheduled. Development of the Saturn IB for manned flight would be accelerated and "all-up" testing would be started. This action followed Bellcomm's recommendation of a number of changes in the Apollo spacecraft flight test program. The program should be transferred from Saturn I to Saturn IB launch vehicles; the Saturn I program should end with flight SA-10. All Saturn IB flights, beginning with SA-201, should carry operational spacecraft, including equipment for extensive testing of the spacecraft systems in earth orbit.
Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight George E. Mueller had recommended the changeover from the Saturn I to the Saturn IB to NASA Administrator James E. Webb on October 26. Webb's concurrence came two days later.
NASA Hq advised the centers regarding the agency's official position vis-a-vis the Defense Department's Manned Orbiting Laboratory project. Both NASA and DOD viewed MOL as a project designed to fulfill immediate military requirements. The project could not be construed as meeting the much broader objectives and goals of a national space station program being studied by both organizations under post-Apollo research and development program policy agreements between NASA Administrator James E. Webb and Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara (dated 14 September 1963).
Ceremonies in Washington marked the sixth anniversary of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Administrator James E. Webb reminded those present of NASA's unique contribution to America's mission and destiny, then read a message from President Johnson: "We must be first in space and in aeronautics," the President said, "to maintain first place on earth. . . . Significant as our success has been, it is but indicative of the far greater advances that mankind can expect from our aeronautical and space efforts in the coming years. We have reached a new threshold . . . which opens to us the widest possibilities for the future." Two days later, in an address in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., Webb observed that "as the national space program moves into its seventh year, the United States has reached the half-way point in the broad-based accelerated program for the present decade." America was halfway to the moon.
During a news conference, Kenneth S. Kleinknecht, Deputy Manager of the Gemini Project Office at MSC, affirmed that, although no firm decisions had yet been made, the concept of a circumlunar flight using a Gemini spacecraft was being seriously studied. The mission would use Titan II and III-C launch vehicles and would require rendezvousing in earth orbit. NASA, Martin-Marietta Corporation (builder of the Titan), and Aerojet-General Corporation (which manufactured upper stages for the III-C) all were studying the feasibility of such a flight. Later in the year, NASA Administrator James E. Webb eliminated the possibility of a Gemini circumlunar mission, ". . . our main reliance for operating at lunar distances . . . is the large Saturn V/Apollo system."
During several visits to MSC, NASA Administrator James E. Webb raised a number of technical and policy questions relating to programs and management practices. Webb seemed particularly concerned about the difficulty of getting the program offices at Headquarters and the Centers to take an active interest in NASA's potential influence in the national economy and world affairs. Additional Details: here....
Webb disapproved of tying any AAP schedules to a date for accomplishment of the Apollo lunar landing objective. William B. Taylor and other Apollo Applications Program planners made a major presentation on AAP plans to James Webb, Hugh L. Dryden, and Robert C. Seamans, Jr., of NASA Hq. Webb made a number of comments regarding the direction of AAP planning. He emphasized that AAP planning must remain extremely flexible to meet not only changing mission objectives and goals, but also broader changes in national policy, resources, and manned space flight objectives generally. Webb disapproved of tying any AAP schedules to a date for accomplishment of the Apollo lunar landing objective, since that goal was not inviolate.
The original Gemini VI mission had been canceled when its target vehicle failed catastrophically on October 25. In a memorandum to the President, NASA Administrator James E. Webb indicated the possibility that Gemini VI spacecraft and launch vehicle could be reerected shortly after the launch of Gemini VII. Since much of the prelaunch checkout of Gemini VI would not need repeating, it could be launched in time to rendezvous with Gemini VII (a mission scheduled for 14 days) if launching Gemini VII did not excessively damage the launch pad. NASA officials, spurred by suggestions from Walter F. Burke and John F. Yardley of McDonnell, began discussing the possibility of a dual mission immediately after the failure October 25, drawing on some six months of discussion and preliminary planning by NASA, Air Force, Martin, and McDonnell personnel for a rapid manned flight launch demonstration.
Robert C. Seamans, Jr., was sworn in as Deputy Administrator of NASA, succeeding Hugh L. Dryden who died December 2. Seamans would also retain his present position as Associate Administrator for an indefinite period of time.
NASA Administrator James E. Webb administered the oath of office. He had announced in Austin, Tex., on December 10, that President Lyndon B. Johnson had accepted his recommendation that Seamans be named to the number two NASA post.
NASA OMSF prepared a position paper on NASA's estimated total cost of the manned lunar landing program. Administrator James E. Webb furnished the paper for the record of the FY 1967 Senate authorization hearings and the same statement was given to the House Committee. The paper was approved by Webb and George E. Mueller and placed the run-out costs for the program at $22.718 billion.
NASA Administrator James E. Webb issued a statement on selection of the Apollo spacecraft contractor: "In the 1961 NASA decision to negotiate with North American Aviation for the Apollo command and service modules, there were no better qualified experts in or out of NASA on whom I could rely than Dr. Robert Gilruth, Dr. Robert C. Seamans, and Dr. Hugh L. Dryden. These three were unanimous in their judgment that of the five companies submitting proposals, and of the two companies that were rated highest by the Source Evaluation Board, North American Aviation offered the greatest experience in developing high-performance manned flight systems and the lowest cost. Additional Details: here....
NASA Administrator Webb refuses to make choice between substantial cuts in either the Apollo Applications or Voyager programs. NASA Administrator James E. Webb testified on the NASA FY 1968 authorization bill before the Senate Committee on Appropriations' Subcommittee on Independent Offices. Asked by Sen. Spessard Holland (D Fla.) to make a choice between a substantial cut in funding for the Apollo Applications Program and the Voyager program, Webb replied that both were vital to the U.S. space effort. Additional Details: here....
An interagency agreement on protecting the earth's biosphere from lunar sources of contamination was signed by James E. Webb, NASA; John W. Gardiner, HEW; Orville L. Freeman, Department of Agriculture; Stewart L. Udall, Department of Interior; and Frederick Seitz, National Academy of Sciences. The agreement established a committee to advise the NASA Administrator on back contamination and the protection of the biological and chemical integrity of lunar samples, on when and how astronauts and lunar samples might be released from quarantine, and on policy matters.
NASA Administrator James E. Webb approved a reorganization of NASA Headquarters, making changes in OMSF. On January 26, 1968, Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight George E. Mueller spelled out OMSF changes:
Phillips and Paine discussed the plan with Webb in Vienna. Webb wanted to think about it, and requested further information by diplomatic carrier. That same day Phillips called Low and informed him that Mueller had agreed to the plan with the provisions that no full announcement would be made until after the Apollo 7 flight; that it could be announced that 503 would be manned and possible missions were being studied; and that an internal document could be prepared for a planned lunar orbit for December.
Webb approves Apollo 8 lunar orbit mission for December - but no public announcement until after a successful Apollo 7 flight. Phillips and Hage visited MSC, bringing the news that Webb had given clear-cut authority to prepare for a December 6 launch, but that they could not proceed with clearance for lunar orbit until after the Apollo 7 flight, which would be an earth-orbital mission with basic objectives of proving the CSM and Saturn V systems. Phillips said that Webb had been "shocked and fairly negative" when he talked to him about the plan on August 15. Subsequently, Paine and Phillips sent Webb a lengthy discourse on why the mission should be changed, and it was felt he would change his mind with a successful Apollo 7 mission.
At a meeting of the MSF Management Council, Apollo Program Director Samuel C. Phillips put forth a number of recommendations regarding planning for extravehicular and scientific activities during the first lunar landing missions: