NASA's James Webb Space Telescope

Who Is James E. Webb?

about-who-is-james-webb-300x200.pngJames E. Webb was NASA Administrator from 1961-1968, and guided the fledgling space agency to triumph in one of the most impressive projects in history – landing a man on the Moon.

Although President John F. Kennedy had committed the nation to landing astronauts on the Moon before the end of the decade, Webb believed that the space program was more than a political race. He believed that NASA had to strike a balance between human space flight and science because such a combination would serve as a catalyst for strengthening the nation's universities and aerospace industry.

Webb's vision of a balanced space program resulted in a decade of space science research that remains unparalleled today. During his tenure, NASA invested in the development of robotic spacecraft to explore the lunar environment and sent scientific probes to Mars and Venus, giving Americans their first-ever view of the strange landscapes of outer space. As early as 1965, Webb also had written that a major space telescope – a concept that would eventually become Hubble – should become a major NASA effort.

By the time Webb retired just a few months before the Apollo moon landing in July 1969, NASA had launched more than 75 space science missions to study the stars and galaxies, our own Sun and the as-yet unknown environment of space above the Earth's atmosphere. Missions such as the Orbiting Solar Observatory and the Explorer series of astronomical satellites built the foundation for the most successful period of astronomical discovery in history, which continues today.

As former NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe said when he announced the new name for the next generation space telescope, "It is fitting that Hubble's successor be named in honor of James Webb. Thanks to his efforts, we got our first glimpses at the dramatic landscape of outer space. He took our nation on its first voyages of exploration, turning our imagination into reality. Indeed, he laid the foundations at NASA for one of the most successful periods of astronomical discovery.