Robbie Lightfoot is a Mechanical Engineer by Day and a Musician by Night
Lightfoot has done quite well during his music career, which produced substantial royalties checks.
Lightfoot served as director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama for over eight years before his retirement. At that time, one of NASA’s largest field installations, he provided oversight in supporting space operations, exploration, and science missions.
Early Life and Education
Lightfoot was born and raised in Massillon, Ohio. Though she lived in an ethnically segregated neighborhood, she did not allow it to limit her participation – becoming part of both the high school band and basketball team as well as participating in every extracurricular activity she could.
She worked at her father’s barbershop and believes that reading to children as they wait can have an enormously positive effect on their education.
As mayor, Lightfoot holds immense power when it comes to Chicago’s schools. She decides when and where new buildings should be constructed; she appoints school boards, CEOs, and negotiates contracts with teachers unions; she works hard to reduce achievement gaps between white and black students; schools serving predominantly students of color receive less funding than their counterparts.
Lightfoot holds a bachelor of mechanical engineering degree from the University of Alabama. Additionally, he serves on its Mechanical Engineering Advisory Board and as associate administrator at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
His musical career began in 1970 after joining forces with Warner/Reprise A&R executive Lenny Waronker to develop the easy-going Laurel Canyon-influenced sound that defined his music. Lightfoot scored major hits like Sundown and Carefree Highway that remain popular on adult contemporary and oldies radio to this day. Even though Lightfoot suffers from emphysema which requires him to use oxygen while performing, he still tours extensively despite needing oxygen while on stage and is an advocate of protecting forests and indigenous cultures both here in Canada and South America.
Achievement and Honors
Lightfoot, who holds a Mechanical Engineering Fellowship at the University of Alabama and sits on its Departmental Advisory Board, was honored with inclusion into Alabama’s Engineering Hall of Fame.
Beginning his NASA career at Marshall Space Flight Center in 1989 as an engineer and program manager on both the Space Shuttle Main Engine technology test bed program and Russian RD-180 engine testing campaigns, before transitioning into propulsion test director of Stennis Space Center Mississippi before being appointed assistant associate administrator at NASA Headquarters from 2003 – 2005 to overseeing its successful return following Columbia.
Lightfoot currently leads Lockheed Martin’s space business and was honored as a 2023 Wash100 winner by Executive Mosaic for his exceptional leadership and industry influence.
Lightfoot has faced some significant health hurdles during his life. In the early 1970s, he contracted Bell’s palsy, leaving him partially paralyzed. Subsequently in 2002 he experienced an abdominal aortic aneurysm leading to six weeks in coma followed by tracheotomy surgery and oxygen tanks to manage his breathing needs.
His music has provided comfort in difficult times. Known for creating soothing and reflective songs, it remains a source of immense pleasure.
He has directed archaeological projects in New England, the American Southwest and California’s coast; these have involved working closely with local tribes, state and national parks as well as university faculty and students. Currently he is conducting research at Fort Ross State Historic Park and Point Reyes National Seashore as well as studying museum collections; his works have been published in multiple journals and books.
Lightfoot was a household name and his success resulted in substantial royalties checks, yet those checks weren’t nearly as satisfying as applause, tender tears, and feeling connected with an audience for life while performing music live on stage.
Lightfoot’s health began to decline during the late 1970s. While at a concert in Orillia, Lightfoot experienced severe abdominal discomfort which resulted in Bell’s palsy; which eventually caused him to lose use of his right hand.
Robert Lightfoot has excelled at both music and Defense & Space industries. Most recently, he served as Chief of Propulsion Test Operations for NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center; since then, he has sold over three units of Lockheed Martin stock.