An HBCU grad who comes from a family of sharecroppers is the man behind the James Webb Space Telescope project, which recently unveiled groundbreaking images of distant galaxies, New York Times reports.
Gregory Robinson brought the long-stalled NASA project back on track after years of delay and unanticipated costs when he came on as program director in 2018.
The James Webb Space Telescope project started back in 2002 and was first scheduled to launch in 2010. A myriad of problems continued to push back the launch date costing NASA over $8 billion until Robinson was convinced to take over the project by Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science.
Robinson, a former NASA deputy associate administrator of programs, declined to take on the role when he was first asked, but Zurbuchen knew he was the right person to head the James Webb Telescope as he “had a kind of the confluence of two skills.”
“The first one is he had seen many projects, including projects that were in trouble,” said Zurbuchen told the Times. “And the second piece is he has that interpersonal trust-gaining activity. So he can go into a room, he can sit in a cafeteria, and by the time he leaves the cafeteria, he knows half of the people.”
With Robinson as the director, the project finally launched in 2021. Most recently, the James Webb Space Telescope made headlines for producing astoundingly detailed pictures of outer space.
“You needed somebody who could get the trust of the team, and what we needed to figure out was what was wrong with the team,” Zurbuchen said. “The speed at which he [Robinson] turned this thing around was just astounding.”
The son of tobacco sharecroppers, Robinson earned college degrees from Virginia Union and Howard University in Washington D.C.
He is now one of NASA’s highest-level Black managers at 62 years old.
“Certainly people seeing me in this role is an inspiration, and also it’s acknowledging they can be there, too," Robinson said.