“It’s hard to tell people how you invent something.

You see a problem-you solve a problem. I enjoy solving problems.”

Maxime A. Faget

Maxime Faget was a Belizean-born American mechanical engineer. Faget was the designer of the Mercury spacecraft and contributed to the later Gemini and Apollo spacecraft as well as the Space Shuttle.

Faget developed many of the innovative ideas and design concepts that have been incorporated into all of the manned spacecraft flown by the United States. His accomplishments included the capsule design and operational plan for Project Mercury, and numerous inventions, papers, and books that laid the foundations for today’s spaceflight. An expert on vehicles suitable for safely reentering the Earth’s atmosphere, he is also noted for his contributions to the basic configuration of the command module and development of the pressure-fed hypergolic engines used in the Apollo Program.

Dr. Maxime "Max" Faget: Photo credits: NASA
Dr. Maxime “Max” Faget: Photo credits: NASA

In 1958, Faget became one of the 35 engineers who formed the Space Task Group, creating the Mercury spacecraft. He based his designs on the aerodynamic work of Harvey Allen from the mid-1950s and was instrumental in selecting the blunt-body shape that won the Mercury competition over numerous contenders. He led the development of the escape tower system used on Mercury, which was used in various forms on almost all following crewed spacecraft.

Maxime Faget explains a model of the Apollo Spacecraft to members of the Korean National Assembly. Credit: NASA
Maxime Faget explains a model of Apollo Spacecraft to members of the Korean National Assembly. Credit: NASA

Faget filed a patent for a space shuttle vehicle design in 1972. Faget was deeply involved in planning for the Space Shuttle, including proposing a straight-winged configuration as a possible candidate for the orbiter. He was very concerned about the use of solid rockets for the Shuttle launch system, and the lack of a plan for continuously improved versions of the Shuttle, as happens for military aircraft. He also believed that a number of unmanned flights should have been used in the program. His design, which he named “DC-3” in homage to the famed Douglas DC-3 airliner, was a small two-stage fully reusable shuttle with a payload capacity of around 15,000 pounds (6,800 kg). DC-3 was officially studied by North American Aviation and shown in the press as a baseline contender for the Space Transportation System (STS).

In 1962, Faget received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement. Faget was inducted into the 1969 National Inventors Hall of Fame and received the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal and John J. Montgomery Award. He was inducted into the Houston National Space Hall of Fame in 1969. He was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame in 1990.

Maxime A. Faget holding a model of an early space shuttle vehicle. Credit: NASA
Maxime A. Faget holding a model of an early space shuttle vehicle. Credit: NASA

Maxime A. Faget died at his home in Houston on October 9, 2004. He was 83.

His passing was mourned by his coworkers: “Without Max Faget’s innovative designs and thoughtful approach to problem-solving, America’s space program would have had trouble getting off the ground,” said NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe. “He also was an aeronautics pioneer. In fact, it was his work on supersonic flight research that eventually led to his interest in space flight.”

“Max was a genuine icon,” said NASA’s Associate Administrator for Space Operations William Readdy. “A down-to-earth Cajun with a very nuts-and-bolts approach to engineering. He contributed immeasurably to America’s successes in human space flight. His genius allowed us to compete and win the space race to the Moon.”

“Max Faget was truly a legend of the manned space flight program,” said Christopher C. Kraft, former Johnson Space Center director. “He was a true icon of the space program. There is no one in space flight history in this or any other country who has had a larger impact on man’s quest in space exploration. He was a colleague and a friend I regarded with the highest esteem. History will remember him as one of the really great scientists of the Twentieth Century.”

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