SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

June 30, 2008

Ex-NASA official had grounding in Salem Robert C. Seamans Jr. dies at age 89

BEVERLY — Robert C. Seamans Jr. spent years in Washington in top-level roles in government, from NASA to the U.S. Air Force, but it was his time in the North Shore that he enjoyed the most.

"He became international with his job, but he never wanted to leave here," said his son, Joe,

Seamans, 89, died Saturday of heart failure in his home in Beverly Farms.

Born and raised in Salem, Seamans served as deputy administrator of NASA and later secretary of the Air Force. He also went on to serve as the first administrator of the Energy Research and Development Administration, an office that would later become the U.S. Department of Energy.

While with NASA, Seamans helped oversee the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs and he and his family watched from the grandstand — sitting next to entertainers Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon — as Apollo 11 took off from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

That wasn't Seamans' only Hollywood connection, however. He was portrayed by actor Dann Florek of "Law & Order: SVU" fame in the 12-part HBO miniseries by Ron Howard and Tom Hanks, "From the Earth to the Moon."

"It was exciting to be a child in his household," said Joe Seamans, the third of five children. "Then when we moved to Washington, he had people over to dinner ... like Wernher von Braun."

Von Braun helped develop rockets that brought man to the moon.

Seamans worked for NASA from 1960 to 1968 and returned to the North Shore, joining the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but Washington soon beckoned again.

"He decided to relax and he did that by becoming secretary of the Air Force," his son said.

President Nixon tapped Seamans for that post in 1969, a job Seamans stayed in until 1973. A year later, he became head of the new Energy Research and Development Administration, which was created following the 1973 oil crisis.

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