James Edwin Webb was the second administrator in the history of NASA from February 14, 1961 to October 7, 1968 (the first was T. Keith Glennan). Webb oversaw NASA from the beginning of the Kennedy administration to the end of the Johnson administration , where he was immersed as a representative of the first manned missions in the Mercury and Gemini Programs until days before the launch of the historic first Apollo mission.
Webb participated in World War II within the United States Marine Corps in 1944. After the end of the War, he returned to Washington and after serving as executive assistant to O. Max Gardner, then Undersecretary of the Treasury, he was appointed director of the Budget Office in the Executive Office of the President, a position he held until 1949. He was asked by President Harry S. Truman himself to accept the position of Assistant Secretary of State in the US Department of State.
After taking a position with Kerr-McGee Oil Corp. in Oklahoma City, he returned to Washington on February 14, 1961, to take charge of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, formally established on October 1, 1958.
Under his direction, the US space agency undertook one of the most impressive projects in history , the goal of landing a man on the Moon. He was neither a scientist nor an engineer, but his obvious talent silenced criticism and, under his direction, NASA launched the execution of the Apollo Project. In fact, at the height of the Apollo program, Webb was responsible for 35,000 employees and more than 400,000 contractors working for thousands of companies and universities across the United States.
Despite the fire and death of the three Apollo 1 astronauts in January 1967, “Gus” Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee, Webb took much of the responsibility for the disaster and for the next year and a half, worked tirelessly to restore trust in NASA. The agency set out to uncover the details of the tragedy, to correct the problems. His efforts were successful with Apollo 7, launched on October 11, 1968, just three days after James Webb resigned as NASA director.
He died on March 27, 1992 and his remains are in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
In 2002 , Sean O’Keefe, then NASA administrator, announced that the next telescope would be named after Webb. Some astronomers were disappointed that it was not named after an astronomer, as Hubble was (in honor of Edwin Hubble). Thus, the telescope was renamed from the Next Generation Space Telescope to the James Webb Space Telescope.
The James Webb Space Telescope Project is a joint venture between NASA and the European and Canadian space agencies to redefine our understanding of the solar system, as well as how the first galaxies formed. This magnificent mission therefore bears the name of the former NASA administrator in the 1960s.
JWST will look further into the universe than any previous optical or infrared telescope and could probe potentially habitable worlds and explore the mysteries of dark energy.