Kurt Debus | Hugh Dryden
| Max Faget | Eilene Galloway
| Bob Gilruth | Brainerd
Holmes | John Houbolt | Chris
Kraft | Gene Kranz | George
Low | George Mueller | Rocco
Petrone | Sam Phillips | Robert
Seamans | Joe Shea | Abe
Silverstein | Floyd Thompson | Werner
von Braun | James Webb |
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.
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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
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
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.
Return to Top
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.
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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.
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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.
Return to Top
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.
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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.
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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.
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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).
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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
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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