Astronomy & Cosmology

Webb, James E. | Three uncommon imprints by NASA administrator James E. Webb

  • James E. Webb (1906-1996) was NASA’s second administrator and one of its most significant, seeing the agency through the Mercury and Gemini programs and the preparation for the Apollo missions.

    To Webb, “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 program resulted in a decade of space science research that remains unparalleled today. During his tenure, NASA invested in the development of robotic spacecraft, which explored the lunar environment so that astronauts could do so later, and it sent scientific probes to Mars and Venus, giving Americans their first-ever view of the strange landscape of outer space. As early as 1965, Webb also had written that a major space telescope, then known as the Large Space Telescope, should become a major NASA effort. By the time Webb retired just a few months before the first 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”. Webb also “enhanced the role of scientists in key ways. He gave them greater control in the selection process of science missions and he created the NASA University Program, which established grants for space research, funded the construction of new laboratories at universities and provided fellowships for graduate students” (”Who is James Webb?”, NASA James Webb Space Telescope website).

    Webb’s legacy has been complicated by allegations that at the State Department and NASA he played a leading role in the lavender scare, in which hundreds of gay personnel were fired from the federal government. In 2021 four astronomers published an op-ed in Scientific American requesting the renaming of the soon-to-be-launched James Webb Space Telescope, but NASA administrators announced that an inquiry into Webb’s actions determined it was unlikely he had played a key role in the firings and the name would be kept.

    These pamphlets deal with various aspects of space science and the space race. “Man Must Take Environment into Space” discusses the hostile environment of space and the ways that NASA scientists have prepared their vehicles and crew for it. “Administration and Management of Space Exploration” lays out the structure and goals of NASA, and “From Runnymede to Ganymede” is the text of a historical talk that Webb gave at the Celebration of the Prelude to Independence in Williamsburg, Virginia on May 27th, 1967.

  • ...“Man Must Take Environment into Space, Project Gemini.”, “Administration and Management of Space Exploration, Project Apollo”, and “From Runnymede to Ganymede” in Speaking of Space and Aeronautics Vol. IV, No. 1. Washington D.C.: NASA, 1962 & 1967.

    3 16-page, wire-stitched pamphlets. The first two in white self-wraps printed in blue. The third in yellow wrappers printed in black and grey. Illustrations from photos within the texts of the first and second pamphlets. Just a little creasing and rubbing. Excellent condition.