Born in Stann Creek, British Honduras, Faget (pronounced fah-zhay) attended community college in San Francisco, California, and he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Louisiana State University in 1943. After three years as a submariner in the U.S. Navy, he joined the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia as a research scientist. While working for NACA at Langley, Faget worked on the design of the famous X-15 supersonic aircraft.
In 1958, Faget became one of the 35 engineers who formed the Space Task Group, creating the Mercury spacecraft. Faget 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. Faget also led the development of the escape tower system used on Mercury, which was used in various forms on almost all following manned spacecraft. Faget also worked on the Gemini and Apollo vehicles, which shared many design points with the Mercury.
Faget also filed a patent for a space shuttle vehicle design in 1972. 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 around 15,000 lbs. DC-3 was officially studied by North American Aviation and shown in the press as a baseline contender for the Space Transportation System (STS). North American also studied a larger version of the same basic system with a 50,000 lbs payload, which was much larger. However, the DC-3's nose-high re-entry profile was controversial, and eventually doomed it when the US Air Force joined the Shuttle program and demanded cross-range performance that the DC-3 simply couldn't meet. In the end, it's most lasting contribution was to clearly identify the trade-offs inherant in any reusable design.
He continued to work for NASA until his retirement in 1981, shortly after the second Space Shuttle flight (STS-2). After his retirement, Faget was among the founders of Space Industries Inc., established in 1982. One of the projects of the company was the Wake Shield Facility, a device to create near-perfect vacuum in space. The WSF flew three times with a Space Shuttle in 1994–96 (STS-60, STS-69, STS-80).
Faget is a member of the National Space Hall of Fame and the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and is a recipient of the NASA Medal for Outstanding Leadership.
Commentary: NASA engineer Max Faget, best known for designing the Mercury capsule and Apollo command module, died in Houston on Saturday
Oct 12, 2004; STEVE INSKEEP Morning Edition (NPR) 10-12-2004 Commentary: NASA engineer Max Faget, best known for designing the Mercury capsule...