“As Capable as Bob Kamm”: About Founding Member of NASA Robert W. Kamm, Delta ‘39 (New York University)
(article from the 2021 Issue of “Reflections: A Journal of Psi Upsilon History”)
As the world once again turns its eyes to space and the great enterprise of NASA we remember one founding member was a brother of Psi Upsilon, Robert W. Kamm, Delta ‘39 (New York University). During his life he was a humble man but received recognition due to his merits and years of service. Much like UTSI vice president Dr. T. Dwayne McCay said of him “[H]e always avoids the spotlight. We are pleased to have this opportunity to honor him as he so richly deserves.” 1
Robert W. Kamm was born on June 10, 1917 in Jamaica, New York. In 1935 he enrolled in New York University where he pledged the Delta chapter of Psi Upsilon in his sophomore year as part of the class of 1936.2 During his time there “Bob” displayed leadership qualities and was listed in The Diamond of 1938 as managing the school band.3 Brother Kamm would go on to graduate in 1939 with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering and join the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, which he would remain a member of for the rest of his life.
His first work would be for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) at the Langley Laboratory in Hampton, Virginia.4 In 1946 he moved to the Glenn L. Martin Company in Baltimore as a senior aerodynamicist.5 During his time at Martin Brother Kamm had multiple publications related to aerodynamics.7 He left Martin in 1948 – he went on to become the Executive Director of the facilities panel for the Committee on Aeronautics of the Pentagon’s research and development board. In the years prior to 1948, the Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC) had run into various roadblocks. Thanks to the organizational acumen of Kamm they were able to move forward.1 Due to his stellar contributions, Bob was named special assistant to Maj. Gen. F.O. Carroll, the first commander of the new AEDC, in 1951.4
Brother Kamm had many achievements during his time at the AEDC.1 In 1951 as one of his first acts he organized the Industry and Educational Advisory Board. This board consisted of representatives of universities and the aeronautical industry. They met frequently to give advice to the USAF Chief of Staff regarding the plans for AEDC, and established a foundation of cooperation between the industry and educational institutions. This special relationship with institutions of education would become important later on in his career. Such were his contributions that upon his departure Dr. Theodore von Karman noted him as “an instrumental force in the founding of AEDC.” 1
Brother Kamm was invited to join NASA as the head of their Western Division in Santa Monica, California, a position he accepted and would begin in 1959. “I was fortunate to be a member of the NASA team during the period of rapid growth that culminated in the first manned moon landing by my friend Neil Armstrong,” Brother Kamm said. “The NASA Western Office was heavily involved in most aspects of the manned space flight program, and I am very proud of the accomplishments by the team of dedicated individuals with whom I was associated. President Kennedy instructed us to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, and we did it!”4
Brother Kamm’s connection to academia would resurface during his time at NASA, as he was nominated to be the first NASA representative to the University of Tennessee Space Institute (UTSI).
The Dean eventually convinced Robert W. Kamm to join UTSI in 1968 – Bob remained there for 20 years. His reputation was such that being considered “as capable as Bob Kamm” was considered the highest of praise.8 The University and the community honored him by naming the road leading to the UTSI campus Robert W. Kamm Rd.9 Brother Robert W. Kamm passed away on June 13, 2001.
He is honored on the Apollo Monument on U.S. Space Walk of Fame located in Space View Park, Titusville, Florida – part of the American Space Museum.
5 – The Glenn L. Martin Company would later be known as The Martin Company and later yet merge with Lockheed to become the modern Lockheed-Martin