Former NASA Deputy Administrator Dr. Robert C. Seamans Jr. Dies at Age 89
July 15, 2008
A prominent figure in the quest to put a man on the Moon, Robert C. Seamans Jr. helped lead the nation’s space program from its infancy to its triumphant Apollo missions, working with aerospace engineers, pioneering astronauts, and presidents to win the space race against the Soviet Union.
Seamans, former deputy administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and former secretary of the Air Force, died on June 28 of heart failure at his home in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts. He was 89.
A native of Salem, Massachusetts, Seamans earned a bachelor’s of science from Harvard University, a master’s from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and a doctorate in instrumentation from MIT.
Seamans played a pivotal role in the early days of space exploration and joined NASA as an associate administrator in 1960, three years after the Soviet Union had launched Sputnik, the world’s first manmade object to orbit Earth. He worked closely with President Kennedy’s administration toward achieving his pledge of a manned lunar landing by the end of the decade.
Seamans, who toured Cape Canaveral with famed rocket scientist Wernher von Braun and Kennedy less than a week before the president was assassinated, served as deputy administrator from 1965 to 1968 and worked closely with the defense department on research and engineering programs, particularly those that affected national security.
In an introduction to Apollo Expeditions to the Moon, a NASA history, Seamans described the monumental challenges involved in carrying men to the Moon and bringing them back safely. “As planning for Apollo began, we identified more than 10,000 separate tasks that had to be accomplished to put a man on the Moon,” wrote Seamans. “Each task had its particular objectives, its manpower needs, its time schedule, and its complex interrelationship with many other tasks.” But Seaman’s trademark attention to detail, combined with determination to cut problems down to size, allowed him to tackle even the most daunting tasks.
While some NASA administrators thought a lunar landing was only a remote possibility, Seamans insisted that it was within reach, and was not afraid to say so. Seamans was instrumental in deciding to send Apollo 8 to the Moon, over the objections of some in the agency. The success of that mission, which orbited the Moon 10 times, paved the way for the lunar landing the following year.
Seamans resigned from NASA in January 1968 to become a visiting professor at MIT, although he remained a consultant to the NASA administrator. From 1969 to 1973, he served as secretary of the Air Force, and in 1974 was named by President Ford as administrator of the Energy, Research, and Development Administration. Upon his return to MIT in 1977, Seamans became dean of its School of Engineering. Even after his retirement in 1984, he returned to the classroom to teach freshman seminars in astronautics.
After hearing of Seaman’s death, current NASA Administrator Michael Griffin issued the following statement: “Robert Seamans was one of the early leaders in launching NASA's efforts to explore the new frontier of space. As NASA’s associate administrator and then deputy administrator, Bob, as a top manager and consummate engineer, was instrumental in the decision-making, planning, and program execution that enabled the United States to meet President Kennedy’s goal of landing men on the Moon. He will be remembered as one of the great pioneers and leaders of America's space program.”
Last updated July 15, 2008