Hometown hero praises Montevallo

Montevallo mayor Ben McCrory presents Robert Lightfoot, the director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center who grew up in Montevallo, with a Hometown Heroes awards plaque before a presentation by Lightfoot at American Village. (Reporter Photo/Jon Goering)

By CHRISTINE BOATWRIGHT / Staff Writer

MONTEVALLO – The director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville was recognized as a hometown hero at American Village March 29.

Robert Lightfoot Jr., son of Bob and Jean Lightfoot, became the director of the space center in 2009. The city of Montevallo chose to honor him in front of a group of Montevallo High School students from a senior government class, freshman forum and SGA leaders.

Montevallo Mayor Ben McCrory awarded Lightfoot with the title of “Hometown Hero,” as Lightfoot is an “example of what hard work and dedication can achieve,” McCrory said.

Lightfoot said he wanted to explain what he does and possibly help the kids decide what they wanted to do as future careers. He explained the responsibilities of the space center, and how those responsibilities directly impact the launching of spacecrafts.

In 2016, the space program intends to launch the James Webb Space Telescope to replace the Hubble Space Telescope, effectively allowing scientists to “look deeper into space” and “see things we’ve never seen before,” Lightfoot said.

After his presentation, Lightfoot asked the students for questions. One student asked if Lightfoot has ever been into space.

“Oh no, I’m not in good enough shape,” he said, grinning. “They won’t let me into space.”

Another student quickly asked, “Do you believe in aliens?”

“We’ve looked and looked and looked, but that’s why we keep looking,” Lightfoot said. “Mars is too hot and Venus is too cold, so we’re in the perfect sweet spot.”

Lightfoot said he attributes his professional success to his Montevallo upbringing.

“I get asked a lot, ‘You’re from where?’ he said. “I am where I am because I grew up in Montevallo, not in spite of it.”

Lightfoot, a mechanical engineer, said his career choice came from great Montevallo High School teachers and a guidance counselor who pushed him into engineering.

“My whole journey started right here with people pushing me,” he told the high school students. “You’re in a good place. I promise you.”