Maxime Faget Biography (1921-)


Maxime Faget holds a position few can claim--spacecraft design engineer. Among his creations are the Mercury capsule, the Apollo command andservice modules, and the space shuttle orbiter.

Faget was born in British Honduras. As a child, he read airplane magazines and Astounding Science Fiction, and built model airplanes. Faget earnedhis B.S. from Louisiana State University in 1943.

Three years later he went to work for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, later renamed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).At Langley Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton, Virginia, he designed ramjetsand began a fruitful collaboration with Caldwell Johnson. Faget eventually was assigned to the propulsion-and-performance team that developed the designfor the X-l5, the experimental plane that flew Mach 6. The flight of the Russian satellite Sputnik 1 in 1957 challenged Americans to pursue manned space flight. A space craft must protect its occupant from high G (gravity) forces and atmospheric friction upon re-entry. Faget argued for a blunt bodied capsule because it could slow down high in the atmosphere where the friction and heat were less. Not only was Faget a good designer, but he was equally effective as a debater, winning over those opposed to his idea. In the late 1950s Faget headed the flight systems division that designed the Mercury capsule.

From 1962 to 1981, Faget was the director of engineering and development at the Manned Spacecraft Center, later renamed the Johnson Space Center, in Houston, Texas. Faget and Johnson designed both the Apollo capsule and service module. For the lunar missions, Faget liked the direct approach method inwhich a huge rocket launched the command-and-service module that would landon the moon as a single unit and return to the earth. A serious drawback wasthe huge rocket needed for takeoff and lunar landing, so Faget converted it to the final form in which the command-and-service module went into lunar orbit with a small lunar-landing craft attached. This system required much less weight for earth launch.

Even before the lunar landings, NASA wanted plans for a reusable space shuttle. Though Faget envisioned a straight-wing plane for greater maneuverability,NASA opted for the delta-shaped design. Faget also argued unsuccessfully forengines that could swing into the payload bay for easier re-entry and one piece solid-rocket boosters, designs that, if used, might have prevented the Challenger disaster and eliminated the hydrogen-leak problem that grounded thefleet for six months.

In 1981 Faget left NASA to work for the aerospace firm Eagle Engineering, andin 1983 he founded Space Industries, Inc. to design an industrial space facility.

Recent Updates

October 9, 2004: Faget died on October 9, 2004, at his home in Houston, Texas, of cancer. He was 83. Source: Washington Post,, October 12, 2004; New York Times,, October 12, 2004;,, October 11, 2004.

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