In Memoriam: Robert Seamans


The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announces with great sorrow the death on June 28, 2008, of Honorary Trustee and Honorary Member, Robert C. Seamans, Jr.   An Associate of the Institution for nearly 30 years, Bob served as a Trustee from 1983 to 1991, when he was elected an Honorary Trustee.  He also served as a Member of the Corporation from 1979 to 1989, and was then elected an Honorary Member.   At various times, he served on the Campaign, Nominating, Governance, and Bylaw Review committees, and most recently the Access to the Sea Committee.

Robert Channing “Bob” Seamans, Jr. was born October 30, 1918 in Salem, Massachusetts.  He attended Lenox School, received his BS from Harvard, and both his MS in Aeronautics and his doctorate in Instrumentation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  Dr. Seamans studied and taught aeronautics at MIT in the 1940s and 1950s.  He joined Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in 1955 and was Chief Engineer of the Missile Electronics and Control Division from 1958 to 1960, when he left to join National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).  He served at NASA for more than seven years, first as Associate Administrator, then as Associate and Deputy Administrator.  He worked closely with President Kennedy’s administration to achieve the President’s pledge of a manned lunar landing by the end of the 1960s.  Dr. Seamans was instrumental in deciding to send Apollo 8 to the moon, over the objections of others in the agency.  The successful mission, which orbited the moon ten times, led the way for the lunar landing the following year. 

In 1968 Dr. Seamans resigned from NASA and returned to MIT as a Visiting Professor, and was soon appointed to the Jerome Clark Hunsaker Professorship, an MIT-endowed visiting professorship in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.  Bob served as Secretary of the Air Force from 1969 to 1973, then was elected President of the National Academy of Sciences.  He was named by President Ford as the first Administrator of the Energy, Research and Development Administration (ERDA) in 1974, and then returned to MIT in 1977 as Henry Luce Professor of Environment and Public Policy until he retired in 1984.  He was also Dean of Engineering from 1978 to 1981.  Bob was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Astronautical Society, American Philosophical Society, American Society for Public Administration, and the National Academy of Engineering. 

Bob and his wife of 66 years, Eugenia “Gene” A. (Merrill) Seamans, lived in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts.  Bob enjoyed photography, and he excelled at sailing and tennis.  He was a member of the Essex Country Club, the Harvard Club, and Cruising Club of America.

Bob is survived by his wife Gene; two brothers, Donald and Peter; five children, Katharine, Eugenia “May,” Daniel, Joseph, and Robert, III; eleven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.  His grandson, Adam Seamans, is 2nd Mate, Relief Master of the R/V Knorr.


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