Director of James Webb telescope program is a HBCU grad and sharecroppers’ son : NPR


Then-NASA Deputy Affiliate Administrator Gregory Robinson stands with different officers to observe a spacecraft launch at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Power Station in September 2016.

NASA through Getty Photos


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NASA through Getty Photos


Then-NASA Deputy Affiliate Administrator Gregory Robinson stands with different officers to observe a spacecraft launch at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Power Station in September 2016.

NASA through Getty Photos

NASA launched the primary batch of pictures from the James Webb telescope this week, wowing the world with never-before-seen views of historical and distant galaxies.

The roughly $10 billion telescope was many years within the making, a partnership with the European House Company and the Canadian House Company that concerned some 20,000 collaborators throughout 29 nations and 14 U.S. states. It lastly launched in December 2021 after an extended string of setbacks and delays that led some astronomers to concern it’d by no means get off the bottom.

Gregory Robinson wasn’t one among them. The profession NASA worker was introduced in as director of the James Webb House Telescope Program in March 2018 to assist get the undertaking again on the rails, over the end line and into area. Regardless of the challenges, he tells Morning Version‘s Steve Inskeep that he by no means doubted whether or not it will work.

“As we moved nearer to launch and whilst we launched, I by no means had a priority on the end result,” Robinson says. “My greatest concern was, ‘Let’s get on with it already, get to the launch website and get it off the bottom.’ ”

Whereas Robinson credit the work of many others in making the telescope a hit, he is obtained particular recognition for the position he performed — together with being acknowledged as one among TIME’s most influential individuals of 2022.

In his tribute, NASA astrophysicist and Nobel laureate John Mather wrote that Robinson “channeled the forces of human nature and ingenuity,” from NASA and Congress to overseas area businesses and aerospace corporations.

“Our groups orbit round Greg, as a result of we belief him to ask questions and perceive our issues and respect our opinions,” Mather wrote. “He makes it look straightforward, however I can barely think about how he does it, and I like him tremendously for it.”

Robinson — who most lately served because the deputy affiliate administrator for packages in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate — has labored on a number of high-profile missions and held quite a few management roles since becoming a member of the area company in 1989.

However Robinson, the ninth of 11 kids born to tobacco sharecroppers in rural Virginia, says he did not precisely develop up dreaming about area … apart from watching the moon touchdown.

“I typically seek advice from Webb as our Apollo second right this moment,” he provides. “However area was not excessive on my checklist.”


Gregory Robinson started his profession at NASA in 1989. Earlier than his position directing the James Webb House Telescope Program, he was answerable for assessing NASA packages for technical and price effectiveness, high quality and efficiency.



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NASA


Gregory Robinson started his profession at NASA in 1989. Earlier than his position directing the James Webb House Telescope Program, he was answerable for assessing NASA packages for technical and price effectiveness, high quality and efficiency.



NASA

Soccer was Robinson’s ticket to school — and area

Danville, Va., is lower than 5 hours away from company headquarters in Washington, D.C., however Robinson says his childhood was “a great distance from NASA.”

Underneath the sharecropping system, a landowner will enable individuals to farm their land in alternate for a portion of the crops produced. Robinson describes it as a product from slavery by Jim Crow that also continues right this moment.

“There are many nuances in there … who retains the books, and who alters the books. And as you undergo that course of there’s winners and there is losers,” he says. “And it retains the losers tied to the farm to allow them to by no means get away to go on and do different issues.”

Robinson — who started his training in a racially segregated elementary college — recalled to The Washington Put up that his academics would inform college students they may do something they wished if that they had an training, which appealed to him as a result of he wished to “get out of Danville and have a greater life.”

He tells Morning Version he actually loved math and science, and had a knack for these topics. He additionally had a knack for soccer, which earned him a scholarship to Virginia Union College in Richmond.

“I believed I used to be a top-notch soccer participant, and for my highschool and my county and my district I in all probability was,” he says. “However once I obtained to school the actual athletes confirmed up, and that was a giant distinction. But it surely was actually my ticket to get to school.”

He wished to main in engineering, however Virginia Union did not provide it. They did have a twin diploma program with Howard College, so he ended up graduating with levels in each math and electrical engineering.

It was throughout Robinson’s time at Howard that NASA landed on his radar. He remembers having buddies who interned on the Goddard House Flight Middle in close by Maryland and actually loved it. And whereas he did not initially intend to work within the business, he ultimately made his method to NASA too.

“When you stroll by the gate and get began, the bug bites you quick and the bug by no means stops biting,” he says.


President Biden previews the primary full-color picture from NASA’s James Webb House Telescope from the White Home on Monday, together with three NASA officers together with Gregory Robinson (backside).

Invoice Ingalls/NASA through Getty Photos


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Invoice Ingalls/NASA through Getty Photos


President Biden previews the primary full-color picture from NASA’s James Webb House Telescope from the White Home on Monday, together with three NASA officers together with Gregory Robinson (backside).

Invoice Ingalls/NASA through Getty Photos

His upbringing knowledgeable his work at NASA, and no matter he does subsequent

Robinson has labored on many spaceflight and area shuttle missions over time and held notable management positions, together with because the deputy heart director at NASA’s John H. Glenn Analysis Middle and NASA deputy chief engineer.

And he is utilized classes from his childhood to even his most high-tech tasks.

Robinson says he realized loads dwelling by the method of faculty desegregation, together with find out how to work with many several types of individuals.

“One of many issues I realized will not be everyone seems to be dangerous who would not appear to be me,” he says. “As a matter of reality, there are a variety of good people who do not appear to be me, and we’ve got a variety of issues in frequent.”

He additionally credit sports activities with instructing him the significance of main, following and being a crew participant.

“Each of these [lessons] actually helped form me early on,” he says. “And, in fact, a very good sturdy household was necessary as nicely.”

Robinson’s newest mission was to get the Webb telescope to launch and thru commissioning. With that performed, what comes subsequent? He laughs that he is labored himself out of a job, and says he is contemplating retirement.

“In fact I’ve a variety of data and experiences, life {and professional}, that I nonetheless wish to share and enhance impression throughout the globe,” Robinson provides. “So I nonetheless plan to do some issues, however it is time to go to the subsequent part of life.”

The audio for this interview was produced by Lilly Quiroz and edited by Simone Popperl.

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