B.S., Aeronautical Engineering, Virginia Tech, 1958
Ph.D., Physics, Virginia Tech, 1967

MSA, Management Engineering, George Washington University
Advanced Management Program, Harvard University

In high school, C. Howard Robins, Jr. heard “the best engineering school in the region was VPI” so he applied and was accepted. Virginia Tech had extension campuses scattered around the state in the 1950s, including one in his hometown of Norfolk. He lived at home the first year to save expenses. His fate improved again when the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) Langley Laboratory, also adjacent to his hometown, accepted him as a co-op student. (NACA was the precursor to NASA.) He transferred to the Virginia Tech campus as a sophomore in aeronautical engineering, and by his junior year he was co-oping in the rocket division of the laboratory. During his senior year, Howard and some of his fellow classmates were the overall winners in the equivalent of today’s national aerospace student design competition. “We won first, second, and third for the south east district; first and third for the Middle Atlantic region; and second and third for the Northeast. We took eight of the 24 possible awards in the country,” Howard recalls. “Thanks to Professor Robert Truitt, the department head, Virginia Tech’s aero curriculum was as good as any place in the country,” Howard says.

The Russians launched Sputnik in 1957, and the race was on to explore space. NACA was a terrific working environment, and  they sponsored him for graduate school at Virginia Tech.” He combined work with school and received his doctorate in physics in 1967.  

Howard spent 1958 through 1961 as the mission planning and performance analyst for Project Scout. He moved to the Johnson Space Center in Houston to work on the Apollo and, subsequently, the Skylab Projects. The latter was the nation’s first space station mission. In 1967, Howard transferred back to NASA Langley where he continued to serve in a number of management positions, now on the mission to Mars called the Viking Project. NASA wanted to search for evidence of life and to obtain information about the surface of Mars, characterizing its structure and composition. Howard moved to NASA’s Washington, D.C. Headquarters Office of Aeronautics and Space Technology in 1976 after the two successful Mars landings. He continued to develop new ground for the space agency, and in 1980 was appointed Chief of the Mission Operations and Information Systems Branch of the Planetary Division of the Office of Space Science and Applications. Three years later NASA selected him for the President’s Executive Exchange program, and he was given a one-year assignment as Acting Director of Research and Development at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company.

Howard returned to NASA Headquarters in 1984 where he subsequently served as Deputy and then Associate Administrator for Management. In 1991 he was appointed the Deputy Associate Administrator for Space Systems Development, responsible for assisting in executive leadership of major system development efforts, including the International Space Station. He retired from NASA in 1994, and served as an Executive in Residence at Virginia Tech from 1994 through 1998. Working from the Northern Virginia campus, he led a number of initiatives, assisted in teaching graduate classes in management, and was a consultant to the federal government in program and project management.

“Two institutions made my life — Virginia Tech and NASA. I have tremendous loyalty to both. When we achieve things, if we achieve things, it is always with help. Virginia Tech is a school of opportunity and that is a legacy we should not forget,” Howard says.

Select Awards and Recognition
NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal
NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal
Presidential Rank of Meritorious Executive