Parents credit schools for son’s NASA success

Published 4:01 pm Monday, April 6, 2009

Robert and Gene Lightfoot are on cloud nine.

As the proud parents of Robert M. Lightfoot Jr., the new acting director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, the Montevallo couple still hasn’t fully absorbed the news.

“Our daughter-in-law called us and told us to go online when the story first posted,” recalled Gene. “We couldn’t believe it. We’ve always been so proud of him and for this to happen to him is so wonderful. It just gave me butterflies in the pit of my stomach.”

“Then he called and told me all about it,” the senior Lightfoot added.” “We’re just very pleased, and we think the people that ought to be really proud of him is the Montevallo school system, the Shelby County School System. It speaks to how good our school system is. I can’t toot their horn enough.”

The junior Lightfoot, a 1981 graduate of Montevallo High School, was named Marshall’s acting director on March 26. He will serve until NASA appoints a permanent replacement for David King, who retired to accept a position at a Huntsville defense firm.

“Robert is a tremendous leader and one of NASA’s best,” King said in a news release. “I leave with full confidence that Marshall will be in great hands.”

Lightfoot, who began his NASA career in 1989 as a test engineer, has served as Marshall’s deputy director since 2007. From 2005 to 2007, he served as manager of the Space Shuttle Propulsion Office at Marshall, which oversees the assembly and operation of main engines, external fuel tanks, solid rocket boosters and reusable solid rocket motors.

Previously, Lightfoot was assistant associate administrator for the Space Shuttle Program in the Office of Space Operations at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. He also was director of the Propulsion Test Directorate at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Miss.

The senior Lightfoot said his son’s interest in space has been evident since childhood.

“We go back a long way with rockets,” the father said. “We started with water rockets and graduated to model rockets and pilot rockets. He’s always wanted to be an engineer.”

The junior Lightfoot earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Alabama in 1986. He resides in Huntsville with his wife, Caroline and two children, Kelsey and Haley.