Press Release

Jimmy Smith Focused on the Journey — and the Destination — in 50 Years at the Marshall Center

By SpaceRef Editor
March 17, 2011
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Jimmy Smith has gone the extra mile — literally — in his 50-year career at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Since his first job in March 1961 as a cab driver for the center, Smith has logged thousands of hours on the road. Currently a lead truck driver for distribution with URS Corporation supporting Marshall’s Office of Center Operations, he has a long history of supporting the ultimate journey – putting new rockets and explorers into space.

In the 1960s, Smith transported people not only around the center, but also to other cities in the region to meetings and other business-related events. He even drove some notables, including U.S. Rep. Bob Jones of Huntsville, representing Alabama’s 5th Congressional District. “The space program was so important to us at that time and to then-President John F. Kennedy,” remembered Smith. He also was a frequent driver for Marshall’s first director, renowned rocket scientist Dr. Wernher von Braun.

“I was von Braun’s driver for awhile,” Smith said. “I really liked him. He was very polite, and sometimes he would ride in the front seat and talk with me.”

Smith has seen and done a lot since those early days at Marshall. He drove a box truck and then a semi-tractor trailer in the mid-1960s to the early 1970s, hauling supplies – including rocket fuel for the Apollo and Gemini missions — all over the Southeast for NASA. While making deliveries to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, he met the seven original Mercury astronauts — Gordon Cooper, Scott Carpenter, John Glenn, Alan Shepard, Virgil Grissom, Walter Schirra and Donald Slayton. It was an opportunity and memory that he cherishes.

“I talked and had coffee with all of them,” Smith recalled. “That was one of the best parts of traveling — getting to meet interesting people.”

One of his favorite memories in his golden career was seeing the first prototype of the space shuttle land at the Redstone Army Airfield. “That was such an important moment in Marshall’s history,” he said. “Look at all the missions we’ve accomplished because of the Space Shuttle Program. I’m glad I was able to be a part of it.”

Smith also has helped load NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft, which transports large components and equipment. He worked in Marshall’s public affairs office in the exhibits department for a few years, traveling to various state fairs to set up displays and exhibits — all helping to promote the nation’s space program.

While his traveling days for Marshall have passed, his experience has helped him in his role as a team lead — a position he’s held since 1995. He oversees a 24-person crew, making sure furniture, equipment and other supplies are distributed to the appropriate places across the center.

“Jimmy’s 50 years of collective knowledge and experience at the center and its people have helped me in my job,” said Craig Murdoch, Smith’s supervisor of almost 11 years. “It is rare nowadays that people stay in the same job for so long. It is definitely something that deserves recognition.”

Smith said he will continue to do his part in furthering Marshall’s initiatives. “I don’t have any plans to retire. I like the work I do, and I like the people. I’ve made a good living for my family. And as long as I’m physically able to do my job, I’ll keep going.”

SpaceRef staff editor.