|George M. Low|
George M. Low
|14th President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute|
|Term||Spring 1976 – July 17, 1984|
|Predecessor||Richard J. Grosh|
June 10, 1926|
|Died||July 17, 1984(aged 58)|
|Alma mater||Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute|
Life and career
He was born near Vienna, Austria to Artur and Gertrude Burger Low, small business people in Austria. With the German occupation of Austria in 1938, four years after Artur Low's death, his family emigrated to the United States. In 1943, Low graduated from Forest Hills High School, Forest Hills, New York, and entered Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), where he joined the Delta Phi fraternity. His education was interrupted by the war and from 1944 to 1946, in which he served in the U.S. Army. While doing so, 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 Aeronautical Engineering degree in 1948. He then worked at General Dynamics (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. In 1949, he 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.
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 flight worthy. In this role he spearheaded the use of FMEA, Failure mode and effects analysis, to rigorously define the possible risks to human space flight. 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. Several contemporaries blamed Low for the shabby treatment Saturn V creator Wernher von Braun received in the early 1970s while at NASA Headquarters. According to a von Braun biography ("Dr. Space" by Bob Ward, published 2005 by the Naval Institute Press), Low was jealous of von Braun's fame and helped force the German rocketman's unhappy departure from the space agency. However, in a later von Braun biography, the alleged connection between Low's NASA leadership and von Braun's resignation was disputed as unproven, ("Von Braun" by Michael Neufeld, published 2007 by the Smithsonian Institution / Alfred A. Knopf).
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.
Richard J. Grosh
|President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
- Biography from RPI historical archives and special collections
- Guide to the George M. Low Papers, 1930-1984
- NASA biography