George M. Low
George M Low.gif
George M. Low
14th President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
In office
Spring 1976 – July 17, 1984
Preceded byRichard J. Grosh
Succeeded byDaniel Berg
Personal details
Born(1926-06-10)June 10, 1926
Vienna, Austria
DiedJuly 17, 1984(1984-07-17) (aged 58)
Alma materRensselaer Polytechnic Institute, B.S. 1948, M.S. 1950

George Michael Low (born George Wilhelm Low; June 10, 1926 – July 17, 1984) was a NASA administrator and 14th President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Early life and education

He was born near Vienna, Austria to Artur and Gertrude Low (née Burger)[1] who had a prosperous manufacturing business.[2] He was educated in private schools in Switzerland and England.[2] His father died in 1934. When Nazi Germany occupied Austria in 1938, Low's family — being Jewish — emigrated to the United States.[3] In 1943, Low graduated from Forest Hills High School, Forest Hills, New York, and entered Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). He joined that college's Delta Phi fraternity. However, his college education was interrupted by the Second World War. From 1944 to 1946, he served in the United States Army. During his military service time, he became a naturalized American citizen, and legally changed his name to George Michael Low.

After military service, Low returned to RPI and received his Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering in 1948. He then worked at Convair in Fort Worth, Texas, as a mathematician in an aerodynamics group. Low returned to RPI late in 1948, however, and received his Master of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering in 1950.

NACA and NASA career

After completing his M.S. degree, Low joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) as an engineer at the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland, Ohio (later the Lewis Research Center and now the Glenn Research Center). He became head of the Fluid Mechanics Section (1954–1956) and Chief of the Special Projects Branch (1956–1958). Low specialized in experimental and theoretical research in the fields of heat transfer, boundary layer flows, and internal aerodynamics. In addition, he worked on such space technology problems as orbit calculations, reentry paths, and space rendezvous techniques.

During the summer and autumn of 1958, preceding the formation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Low worked on a planning team to organize the new aerospace agency. Soon after NASA's formal organization in October 1958, Low transferred to the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C., where he served as Chief of Manned Space Flight. In this capacity, he was closely involved in the planning of Projects Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo.

In February 1964, Low transferred to NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas (now the Johnson Space Center), and served as Deputy Center Director. In April 1967, following the Apollo 1 fire, he was named Manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office (ASPO) where he was responsible for directing the changes to the Apollo spacecraft necessary to make it flightworthy. In this role he spearheaded the use of FMEA, Failure mode and effects analysis, to rigorously define the possible risks to human space flight. Low also created and chaired the Configuration Control Board, which had as its purpose to monitor technical changes that could inadvertently affect some other part of the complex Apollo system, thereby helping assure future mission safety.[4] Flight Director Glynn Lunney has suggested that Low "brought the [Apollo] program out of despair and brought it into the sunlight".[5] This effort helped return the Apollo project schedule to the promised date for the Moon landing.

George Low became NASA Deputy Administrator in December 1969, serving with Administrators Thomas O. Paine and James C. Fletcher. As such, he became one of the leading figures in the early development of the Space Shuttle, the Skylab program, and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.

The stellar rocket engineer Wernher von Braun blamed Low for what he felt was shabby treatment in the early 1970s while he was at NASA Headquarters. According to a biography of him, Von Braun believed Low was jealous of his fame and that Low helped force von Braun's unhappy departure from the space agency.[6] However, a biography of Von Braun later on by the noted space historian Michael J. Neufeld disputed Low's involvement in von Braun's resignation.[7]

President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Retiring from NASA in 1976, he became president of RPI, a position he still held at his death. On July 16, 1984, the White House announced that Low had been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contributions to education and the nation's space program. He died of cancer on the following day. The New York State Center for Industrial Innovation was renamed the George M. Low Center for Industrial Innovation by RPI shortly after his death.

Personal life

In 1949, Low married Mary Ruth McNamara of Troy, New York. Between 1952 and 1963, they had five children: Mark S., Diane E., George David, John M., and Nancy A. His son David became an astronaut for NASA in 1985 and flew three times on the Space Shuttle. He died in 2008.

In popular culture

In the 1996 TV movie Apollo 11 Low was played by Dennis Lipscomb. In the 1998 miniseries From the Earth to the Moon he was played by Holmes Osborne. In the 1995 film Apollo 13, he is portrayed by Joe Spano.


  1. ^ McQuaid (2007), p. 429.
  2. ^ a b Murray & Cox (1989), p. 228.
  3. ^ McQuaid (2007), pp. 429–431.
  4. ^ Jurek (2018).
  5. ^ Barnes (2017).
  6. ^ Ward (2005), p. 203.
  7. ^ Neufeld (2007), pp. 456-457.


  • McQuaid, Kim (2007). "CH. 22 "Racism, Sexism, and SpaceVentures": Civil Rights at NASA in the Nixon Era and Beyond" (PDF). In Dick, Steven J.; Launius, Roger D. (eds.). Societal Impact of Spaceflight (PDF). The NASA history series, NASA SP-2007-4801. Washington, DC: NASA. ISBN 978-0-16-080190-7. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2008-05-11. Retrieved 2015-01-01.
  • Murray, Charles A.; Cox, Catherine Bly (1989). Apollo: The Race to the Moon. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-61101-9.
  • NASA History Staff (2008-06-30). "GEORGE M. LOW: NASA Deputy Administrator, December 3, 1969-June 5, 1976". NASA Headquarters, Public Affairs Office. History. Washington, D.C.: National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Archived from the original on 2015-01-01. Retrieved 2015-01-01.
  • Julie Barnes / video moderated by Astronaut Nicole Mann (2017-01-31). "2017 A Day of Remembrance, Apollo 1 Lessons and Legacies Panel Discussion". NASA Johnson. History. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Retrieved 2017-02-01 – via YouTube.
  • Neufeld, Michael (2007). Von Braun: Dreamer of Space Engineer of War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-307-26292-9. Retrieved 2015-01-01.
  • Rensselaer Staff (2013). "Rensselaer President George M. Low". Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Archives and Special Collections. Troy, NY: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Archived from the original on 2015-01-01. Retrieved 2015-01-01.
  • Jurek, Richard (December 2018). "The Man Who Won the Moon Race". Air & Space Magazine. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 2018-12-13.

External links

  • Biography from RPI historical archives and special collections
  • Guide to the George M. Low Papers, 1930-1984
Academic offices
Preceded by
Richard J. Grosh
President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Succeeded by
Daniel Berg