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James Beggs, NASA administrator in the 1980s, dies at 94

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James Beggs, NASA administrator in the 1980s, dies at 94

Postby AfricanMustang » Mon Apr 27, 2020 12:34 pm

James Montgomery Beggs was born Jan. 9, 1926, in Pittsburgh and grew up in San Antonio. His father was in the insurance business, his mother a homemaker.

After a year at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Beggs entered the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, graduating in 1947 as part of an accelerated program. He served in the Navy until 1954. A year later, he received an MBA from Harvard University.

He worked for Westinghouse in Baltimore until 1968, when he became NASA's chief of research in Washington. He was a top official at the Transportation Department from 1969 to 1973, then joined a company owned by reclusive mogul Howard Hughes.

In 1974, Beggs became an executive vice president of General Dynamics in southern California, managing defense and aerospace projects.

Beggs was a onetime Navy officer who worked in the aerospace industry and held top jobs at NASA in the 1960s and later in the Transportation Department. He was named NASA administrator - the space agency's top position - in 1981.

At that time, NASA's glory days of manned space flight and heroic missions to the moon were a decade in the past, and budget cuts had reduced the agency's scope and morale. Beggs sought to restore NASA's luster through scientific expeditions, strengthened ties to the military and a new space station - which White House budget cutters dismissed as a "motel in the sky for astronauts."

Beggs secured additional funding for NASA and proved to be a popular and charismatic figure, given to spontaneously quoting lines from Shakespeare. He was skilled at dealing with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and helped rebuild the country's space program. He foresaw a time when a squadron of space shuttles would be conducting scientific research and launching secret military satellites in space.

"There is no telling where our vision and imagination will lead us once we have the space station," he said in 1985. "As Shakespeare put it, 'Thoughts are but dreams till their effects be tried.' "

He stepped up the space shuttle program, with more than 20 successful missions during his tenure, and was instrumental in establishing programs to send members of Congress and teachers into space. By 1985, NASA had 20,000 employees and an annual budget of almost $8 billion.

Beggs' tenure at NASA was overshadowed by two events that took place in rapid succession. In December 1985, he was indicted by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles for defrauding the Army of millions of dollars when he had worked at General Dynamics, a major defense contractor. He and three other company executives were charged with illegally billing the government for millions of dollars in cost overruns during the development of a prototype of an antiaircraft gun.

Beggs took a leave of absence from NASA while strenuously disputing the accusations.

"There is nothing that I did in the case involved that I would not do again if I had to do it over again," he said in a speech to his staff, who gave him a standing ovation. "We acted in an entirely ethical, legal and moral sense. The charges are therefore baseless, they are outrageous, ridiculous, and I feel confident that once this is brought to trial that I'll be completely exonerated of the charges."

Every top official at NASA signed letters sent to Congress and the White House, calling Beggs "an individual with the highest standards of integrity which have earned him the esteem and respect of his colleagues."

He was still officially the NASA administrator the following month, when the Challenger space shuttle broke apart 73 seconds after liftoff, on Jan. 28, 1986. All seven members of the flight crew, including New Hampshire schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, were killed.

Soon afterward, as congressional committees and oversight panels began to search for answers, Beggs resigned. With his career in tatters, he fought a legal battle with federal prosecutors for more than a year.

In June 1987, all charges against Beggs and the three other General Dynamics executives were dropped. A Justice Department review found that no laws had been violated, and Attorney General Edwin Meese III took the unusual step of sending a letter to Beggs, apologizing for the prosecution.

"I wish to offer you a profound apology on behalf of the federal government and the Department of Justice," Meese wrote, saying the indictment was based on "an inaccurate understanding and assessment of the underlying facts."

"Your fellow citizens," Meese continued, "should now be more aware than ever that your character is untarnished and your behavior unblemished."

Two years later, a federal judge ordered more than a dozen government agencies to destroy all records related to Beggs' indictment, giving him a full exoneration.

https://www.stripes.com/news/us/james-b ... 4-1.627459
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