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Powering Apollo: James E. Webb of NASA (New Series in NASA History) Hardcover – March 1, 1995
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From Library Journal
James E. Webb was not a household name during the 1960s Apollo moon program, as were many of the astronauts. But as NASA administrator from 1961 to 1968, he provided the leadership that steered the fledgling space agency on a course to the moon, and he is generally acknowledged as being the standard by which subsequent NASA administrators are judged. Lambright (political science and public administration, Syracuse Univ.) examines Webb's career from his stint as budget bureau director and under secretary of state during the Truman administration, to his work in private industry, to his appointment by JFK as NASA head, a post he accepted reluctantly but in which he came into his own as a manager par excellence. Focusing on Webb's administrative skills, Lambright makes the case that the United States beat the Russians to the moon largely because "we out-managed them." While this book leaves the reader wishing for a proper biography that would reveal more of the man behind one of the greatest technological achievements of the century, it is still highly recommended for academic and large public libraries as a thoroughgoing account of Webb's achievements.?Thomas J. Frieling, Bainbridge Coll., Ga.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"The reputation of James Webb is hostage to Apollo. He, more than any other single individual, made Apollo happen... This fine biography will keep his memory warm." -- Science
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The book is divided into two parts. The first third of the book describes Webb's early years including his employment with the State Department, the Bureau of the Budget and Republic Supply, a division of Kerr-McGee. The remainder of the book focuses on Webb's involvement in the development of the NASA management system and the problems he overcame to get Apollo to the Moon.
In general, I found the book quite interesting. There are many descriptions of the personal battles he had to fight with contractors, the congress and his own top-level employees, how set up the NASA management system, his involvement with the academic world and in how upper management viewed various disasters and triumphs. The management system which he developed for the largest engineering and research effort mankind has ever undertaken, carried on well after he left NASA. For example, the Apollo 11 moon landing took place when it was suppose to even the there was a new Nixon appointed leader. This management system carried on well into the Space Shuttle and Space Station programs. I also found it refreshing that Jim Webb felt a sense of personal responsibility for the loss of the Apollo 1 crew. Compare that to the finger pointing associated with the Challenger explosion and the majority of today's politicians.
After finishing the book, I came away with the feeling that Jim Webb was truly believed in the dream that mankind should explore space and made every effort to make this dream a reality.
Political scientist W. Henry Lambright focuses here on the biography of a stellar public administrator. He finds that Webb, a North Carolinian with a thick southern accent that charmed all and helped to hide a steel trap mind, was well-prepared for guiding NASA during this critical era because of his place as a Federal government insider well-versed in the bobs and weaves, ins and outs of New Deal Washington and the highest echelons of the Democratic Party.
Coming to Washington in 1932, Webb served as secretary to Representative Edward W. Pou of the 4th North Carolina District and Chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee until 1934. He then went to work in the law office of O. Max Gardner, attorney and former Governor of South Carolina, in Washington, D.C., between 1934 and 1936. He then moved to the private sector, eventually rising to vice president of the Sperry Gyroscope Company, before entering the U.S. Marine Corps in 1944. After World War II, Webb returned to Washington and served as Executive Assistant to 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. 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. Webb's long experience in Washington paid handsomely during his years at NASA, where he lobbied for federal support for the space program and dealt with competing interests on Capitol Hill and in the White House. His career changed fundamentally after May 25, 1961, when President John F. Kennedy announced that the United States would commit itself to landing an American on the Moon before the end of the decade. For seven years after Kennedy's 1961 lunar landing announcement, through October 1968, James Webb politicked, coaxed, cajoled, and maneuvered for NASA in Washington. The longtime Washington insider proved 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 Kennedy had announced. He left NASA in October 1968, just as Apollo was nearing a successful completion.
All of this is detailed in Lambright's excellent book. Once reading it, everyone will understand the book's title, "Powering Apollo," which Webb did with brilliant political leadership.
Lambright deals extensively with the most difficult challenge faced by Webb, the Apollo 1 fire on January 27, 1967 that killed astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee. As shock gripped the nation during the days that followed, 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 took the brunt of public criticism for the accident, and went before various congressional committees and took a personal grilling every time. His answers were sometimes evasive and always defensive. The New York Times said that under Webb NASA stood for "Never a Straight Answer." 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 administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson. While he was personally tarred with the disaster, the space agency's image and popular support were largely undamaged. Webb himself never recovered from the stigma of the fire, Lambright notes, and when he left NASA in October 1968, even as Apollo was nearing a successful completion, few mourned his departure.
In all, this is an outstanding administrative biography of Jim Webb, still by far NASA's most significant administrator, although some-Daniel S. Goldin and James M. Fletcher (when his two appointments are counted together)-have served longer. "Powering Apollo" is must reading for anyone seeking to understand the Apollo program.
I was one of the 450,000 people who worked on Apollo. It took an immense number of people, huge assembly and testing sites and 23,000 contractors and the biggest, most powerful rocket in the world, the Saturn V.
I like what James Webb wrote. You might not agree but he and I were both there.
"Something Funny Happened on the Way to the Moon." by Sara Howard