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James E. Webb


James E. Webb

James E. Webb
2nd Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
In office
February 14, 1961 – October 7, 1968
President John F. Kennedy
Lyndon Johnson
Deputy Hugh Latimer Dryden
Robert Seamans
Thomas O. Paine
Preceded by T. Keith Glennan
Succeeded by Thomas O. Paine
16th Under Secretary of State
In office
January 28, 1949 – February 29, 1952
President Harry S. Truman
Preceded by Robert A. Lovett
Succeeded by David K. E. Bruce
7th Director of the Bureau of the Budget
In office
July 13, 1946 – January 27, 1949
President Harry S. Truman
Preceded by Harold D. Smith
Succeeded by Frank Pace
Personal details
Born James Edwin Webb
October 7, 1906
Tally Ho, North Carolina
United States
Died March 27, 1992(1992-03-27) (aged 85)
Washington, District of Columbia
United States
Resting place Arlington National Cemetery
Nationality U.S.
Political party Democratic
Alma mater University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, B.A.
Occupation Politician and bureaucrat
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1930–32, 1944–45
Rank Lieutenant Colonel

James Edwin Webb (October 7, 1906 – March 27, 1992) was an American government official who served as the second administrator of NASA from February 14, 1961 to October 7, 1968.

Webb oversaw NASA from the beginning of the Kennedy administration through the end of the Johnson administration, thus overseeing all the critical first manned launches in the Mercury through Gemini programs, until just before the first manned Apollo flight. He also dealt with the Apollo 1 fire.

In 2002, a planned space telescope, originally called the Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST), was renamed the James Webb Space Telescope as a tribute to Webb.


  • Biography 1
    • Early years 1.1
    • Career 1.2
      • Budget 1.2.1
      • State 1.2.2
      • NASA 1.2.3
    • Personal life 1.3
  • Legacy 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Early years

Webb was born in the hamlet of Tally Ho in J.D. degree in 1936. In the same year he was admitted to the Bar of the District of Columbia.


Webb began his long career in public service in Washington, D.C. by serving as secretary to US Rep. Edward W. Pou of North Carolina in 1932–34. Pou was chairman of the Rules Committee and Dean of the House. With Webb's assistance, Pou was influential in pushing through the first legislation of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal during the first hundred days of Roosevelt's term. In addition to his secretarial duties, Webb provided physical assistance to the aging and ailing Pou.[2]

He next served as an assistant in the office of O. Max Gardner, an attorney, former governor of North Carolina and friend of President Roosevelt, in 1934–36. Gardner supported Webb in finishing his law degree.[3]

During the airborne radar systems during World War II.[4]

Although he wished to re-enlist in the Marines at the start of the war, he was deferred because of the importance of his work at Sperry to the war effort. By 1944, however, he was allowed to re-enlist in the Marines, where he became the commanding officer, First Marine Air Warning Group, Ninth Marine Aircraft Wing, first as a captain and later as a major. He was put in charge of a radar program for the invasion of the Japanese mainland. He had orders to leave for Japan on August 14, 1945, but his orders were delayed, and the Surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945 meant that he did not see combat.[5]


After World War II, Webb returned to Washington and served as executive assistant to O. Max Gardner, by then the

Political offices
Preceded by
Harold D. Smith
Director of the Office of Management and Budget
Served under: Harry S. Truman

July 13, 1946 – January 27, 1949
Succeeded by
Frank Pace
Preceded by
Robert A. Lovett
Under Secretary of State
Succeeded by
David K. E. Bruce
Government offices
Preceded by
T. Keith Glennan
NASA Administrator
Succeeded by
Thomas O. Paine
  • Oral History Interview with James E. Webb, from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library

External links

  • 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
  • Portions of this article are based on public domain text from NASA.
  • James Edwin WebbEncyclopaedia Britannica,


  1. ^ Sumner, Jim. "Tar Heels in Space" (PDF). NC Museum of History. 
  2. ^ Lambright, p. 18.
  3. ^ Lambright, p. 20.
  4. ^ Lambright, p. 20-22.
  5. ^ Lambright, p. 28-29.
  6. ^ Lambright, p. 32.
  7. ^ Lambright, p. 34-35.
  8. ^ Lambright, p. 50-51.
  9. ^ Edsall, Nicholas (2003). Toward Stonewall: Homosexuality and Society in the Modern Western World, University of Virginia Press. ISBN 0-8139-2211-9
  10. ^ David K. Johnson, The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government (University of Chicago Press, 2004), 104-107
  11. ^ Lambright, p. 59.
  12. ^ Lambright, p. 60-61.
  13. ^ Webb oral biography. Transcript, James E. Webb Oral History Interview I, 1969/04/29, by T. H. Baker, Internet Copy, LBJ Library. Accessed May 28, 2009.
  14. ^ Slayton, Donald K. "Deke";  


See also

NASA's planned James Webb Space Telescope was renamed in Webb's honor in 2002. This telescope, to be launched in October 2018, is referred to as "the Hubble successor".

Webb was played by Dan Lauria in the 1998 miniseries, From the Earth to the Moon.


Webb died in 1992, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Webb was married to Patsy Aiken Douglas in 1938, and they had two children: Sarah Gorham Webb (b. 1945), and James Edwin Webb, Jr. (b. 1947).

After retiring from NASA, Webb remained in Washington, D.C., serving on several advisory boards, including serving as a regent of the Smithsonian Institution. In 1981, he was awarded the Sylvanus Thayer Award by the United States Military Academy at West Point for his dedication to his country.

Webb was a 33rd Degree member of Scottish Rite Freemasonry.

Personal life

In 1969, Webb was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Johnson. He is a 1976 recipient of the Langley Gold Medal from the Smithsonian Institution.

Webb was informed by CIA sources in 1968 that the Soviet Union was developing its own heavy N1 rocket for a manned lunar mission, and he directed NASA to prepare Apollo 8 for a possible lunar orbital mission that year. At the time Webb's assertions about the Soviet Union's abilities were doubted by some people, and the N-1 was dubbed "Webb's Giant".[14] However, later revelations about the Soviet Moonshot – after the collapse of the USSR – have given support to Webb's conclusion. Webb left NASA in October 1968, just before the first manned flight in the Apollo program.

Webb was a Democrat tied closely to Johnson, however, and with Johnson choosing not to run for reelection, he decided to step down as administrator to allow the next president, Republican Richard M. Nixon, to choose his own administrator.[13]

Webb reported the investigation board's findings to various congressional committees, and he took a personal grilling at nearly every meeting. Whether by happenstance or by design, Webb managed to deflect some of the backlash over the accident away from both NASA as an agency and from the Johnson administration. As a result, NASA's image and popular support were largely undamaged.

After the Apollo 1 accident in 1967, Webb told the media, "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 Johnson and asked that NASA be allowed to handle the accident investigation, and to direct its recovery, according to a procedure established following the in-flight accident on Gemini 8. He promised to be truthful in assessing blame, and he pledged to assign that to himself and NASA management, as appropriate. The agency set out to discover the details of the tragedy, to correct problems, and to continue progress toward the Apollo 11 lunar landing.

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, later, the Johnson Space Center, in Houston, Texas. Despite the pressures to focus on the Apollo program, Webb ensured that NASA carried out a program of planetary exploration with the Mariner and Pioneer space programs.

For seven years after Kennedy's May 25, 1961 announcement of the goal of a manned lunar landing, through October 1968, Webb lobbied for support for NASA in Congress. As a longtime Washington insider, and with the backing of President Lyndon B. Johnson, he was able to produce continued support and resources for Apollo.

Webb, Vice President Lyndon Johnson, Kurt Debus, and President John F. Kennedy receive a briefing on Saturn I launch operations during a tour of Launch Complex 34, September 1962.
Webb presents NASA's Group Achievement Award to Kennedy Space Center Director Kurt H. Debus, while Wernher von Braun (center) looks on.

On February 14, 1961, Webb accepted President John F. Kennedy's appointment as Administrator of NASA. Webb directed NASA's undertaking of the goal set by Kennedy of landing an American on the Moon before the end of the 1960s through the Apollo program.


Webb left Washington for a position in the Kerr-McGee Oil Corp. in Oklahoma City, but he was still active in government circles, for instance serving on the Draper Committee in 1958.

With the attention of the Department focused on the Korean War, Webb's influence weakened. As the author of NSC-68, Paul Nitze became the principal advisor the Secretary Acheson, and a misunderstanding between Webb and Nitze led to Nitze outwardly calling for Webb's resignation. Although the rift blew over, Webb started suffering from migraine headaches, and resigned in February 1952.

Pursuing his scientific interest, Webb sought to increase the propaganda role in the US-USSR conflict. He set up an alliance with university scientists called Project Troy to study radio propagation behind the iron curtain.

On Sunday, 25 June 1950, the George Marshall was called out of retirement to become the new Secretary of Defense.

One of the biggest questions facing the Department of State at the time was whether the Soviet Union could be contained through diplomatic means or whether the military would be needed. Paul Nitze, as Director of Policy Planning, wrote a classified memo, NSC-68 that argued for a military build-up of NATO forces. Although Secretary of Defense Louis A. Johnson opposed an increase in the Defense budget, Webb got Truman to convince him to support the recommendations of NSC-68.[11]

Webb joined the State Department during the Era of McCarthy, and the Department was under considerable pressure from Congress to root out Communists, Anarchists and others deemed Un-American and a security risk. Webb met with Truman in 1950 to discuss the administration's response to the Congressional hearings. Webb testified to a Senate committee that most of the people removed from the government for moral turpitude were homosexuals.[9] Although the White House was not politically able to quell the Congressional fervor, they implemented a strategy to emphasize the medical aspects and downplay the security concerns of homosexuals in government.[10]

[8] President


The Bureau of the Budget prepares the President's proposed budget each year for presentation to Congress. Truman's objective for the budget was to bring it to balance after the large expenditures of World War II.[7]


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