Dr. Robert C. Seamans, Jr., was born on October 30, 1918, in Salem, Massachusetts. He attended Lenox School, Lenox, Massachusetts; earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering at Harvard University in 1939; a Master of Science degree in Aeronautics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1942; and a Doctor of Science degree in Instrumentation from MIT in 1951. Dr. Seamans also received the following honorary degrees: Doctor of Science from Rollins College (1962) and from New York University (1967); Doctor of Engineering from Norwich Academy (1971), from Notre Dame (1974), and from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in 1974.
From 1941 to 1955 he held teaching and project positions at MIT during which time he worked on aeronautical problems, including instrumentation and control of airplanes and missiles. Positions that he held at MIT included: Instructor (1941-1945), Assistant Professor (1945-1950), and Associate Professor (1950-1955), Department of Aeronautical Engineering; Project Engineer, Instrumentation Laboratory; Chief Engineer, Project Meteor; and Director, Flight Control Laboratory.
Dr. Seamans joined the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in 1955 as Manager of the Airborne Systems Laboratory and Chief Systems Engineer of the Airborne Systems Department. In 1958, he became Chief Engineer of the Missile Electronics and Controls Division at RCA in Burlington, Massachusetts.
From 1948 to 1958, Dr. Seamans also served on technical committees of NASA's predecessor organization, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. He served as a consultant to the Scientific Advisory Board of the United States Air Force from 1957 to 1959, as a Member of the Board from 1959 to 1962, and as an Associate Advisor from 1962 to 1967. He was a National Delegate, Advisory Group for Aerospace Research and Development (NATO) from 1966 to 1969.
In 1960, Dr. Seamans joined NASA as Associate Administrator. In 1965, he became Deputy Administrator, retaining many of the general management-type responsibilities of the Associate Administrator and also serving as Acting Administrator. During his years at NASA he worked closely with the Department of Defense in research and engineering programs and served as Co-chairman of the Astronautics Coordinating Board. Through these associations, NASA was kept aware of military developments and technical needs of the Department of Defense and Dr. Seamans was able to advise that agency of NASA activities which had application to national security.
In January 1968 he resigned from NASA to become a visiting professor at MIT and in July 1968 was appointed to the Jerome Clarke Hunsaker professorship, an MIT-endowed visiting professorship in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, named in honor of the founder of the Aeronautical Engineering Department. During this period with MIT, he was also a consultant to the Administrator of NASA.
In 1969 he became secretary of the United States Air Force, serving until 1973. Dr. Seamans was also president of the National Academy of Engineering from May 1973 to December 1974, when he became the first administrator of the new Energy Research and Development Administration. He returned to MIT in 1977, becoming dean of its School of Engineering in 1978. In 1981 he was elected chair of the board of trustees of Aerospace Corp.
Dr. Seamans and his wife, Eugenia A. Merrill, had five children: Katherine Padulo; Robert C. III; Joseph; May Baldwin; and Daniel; and twelve grandchildren.
Dr. Seamans passed away on June 28, 2008. Click here to read the NASA Administrator's statement on his death.
For further information on Robert C. Seamans, Jr., see his autobiography, Aiming at Targets (NASA SP-4106, 1996) and his monograph, Project Apollo: The Tough Decisions (NASA SP-2005-4537).
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Updated May 5, 2016
Bill Barry, NASA Chief Historian
Steve Garber, NASA History Web Curator