George Low

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George M. Low
George M Low.gif
George M. Low
4th Deputy Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
In office
December 3, 1969 – June 5, 1976
Preceded byThomas O. Paine
Succeeded byAlan M. Lovelace
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 (BS, MS)

George Michael Low (born Georg Michael Löw, June 10, 1926 – July 17, 1984) was an administrator at NASA and the 14th president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Low was one of the senior NASA officials who made numerous critical decisions as manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office in the Apollo program of crewed missions to the Moon.

Early life and education[edit]

He was born near Vienna, Austria, to Artur and Gertrude Löw (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, 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[edit]

At Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory[edit]

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.

NASA Goett Committee[edit]

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. Low made many significant contributions to early human spaceflight, including setting NASA long range plans, testifying before Congress, speaking to the media, and presenting at industry conferences.[4] Low was considered "the original moon zealot" at NASA, and pushed for a lunar landing for NASA's long-range goal as part of the Goett Committee in 1959.[5] He pushed for industry studies for a lunar landing and announced the Apollo program to the world in July 1960 at NASA's first industry planning conference, and he wrote the lunar landing feasibility study (as a result of the so-called Low Committee he formed in the fall of 1960) that served as the background report for Kennedy's decision to establish a lunar landing goal by the end of the 1960s.[6]

Houston and APSO[edit]

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.[7] Flight Director Glynn Lunney has suggested that Low "brought the [Apollo] program out of despair and brought it into the sunlight".[8] This effort helped return the Apollo project schedule to the promised date for the Moon landing.

Low's bold decision to turn Apollo 8 into a lunar orbit mission (from an Earth orbit mission) was of particular importance in 1968, when it became apparent that the Lunar Module was not ready for flight and there was a risk that a delay would endanger getting to the Moon by the end of the decade. "Low's idea to circumnavigate the moon was a stroke of genius", Bob Gilruth is quoted as saying, noting that "it broke the back of the Russian moon-landing effort, and it left the U.S. free to take its time and concentrate on doing the job of landing a man on the moon" during Apollo 11.[9] When Time magazine put the Apollo 8 crew on the cover of its publication for January 1969, it also singled out Low, out of the 400,000 or so people working on Apollo at the time, as the "groundling" most responsible for the ultimate success of the mission, labeling him "The Groundling Who Won."[10]

NASA deputy administrator[edit]

George Low became NASA deputy administrator in December 1969, serving with Administrators Thomas O. Paine and James C. Fletcher. He served as acting administrator after Paine's resignation, and is credited with helping to save the agency after the Nixon White House rejected Paine's expensive and unacceptable budget requests in the early 1970s.[11] In these roles, he became one of the leading figures in the early development of the Space Shuttle, the Skylab program, and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.

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 Bob Ward's 2005 biography, von Braun believed Low was jealous of his fame and that Low helped force von Braun's unhappy departure from the space agency.[12] However, another biography by noted space historian Michael J. Neufeld disputed Low's involvement in von Braun's resignation.[13] Low's biography by Richard Jurek also disputes this account, indicating Low's efforts to try to retain and engage von Braun in strategic planning in the early 1970s and being pleased with von Braun's work.[14]

President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute[edit]

Retiring from NASA in 1976, Low became president of RPI. He held that position until his death in 1984. He initiated the Rensselaer Technology Park.

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.

RPI Technology Park[edit]

In 1979, George Low put together a group of individuals composed of faculty, staff, alumni, and students to conduct a feasibility study of whether building a technology park was possible. Two years later, in March 1981, the board of trustees approved a $3 million investment to design and officially plan out the basic foundations of the technology park. From 1981 to 1982, the park's infrastructure was designed and prepared to be built across an area of 150 acres, including the development of an eighth mile worth of roadway and underground functionalities, some of which included power, gas, water, plumbing and storm sewers, and even telephone. Low's project found its first tenant in March 1983, an optoelectronics facility for the company National Semiconductor. From 1983 to 1991, 100 more acres were added to the property, and many more large companies became increasingly involved as well. In July 1993, Metropolitan Life opened up a 212,000 sq ft computer center that currently acts as the company's national disaster emergency recovery site, as well as its main computer software development headquarters. MapInfo also moved into the park in 1993. MapInfo was a company that was founded by three Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute students after they had taken a course at school in technological entrepreneurship, during which the three students produced their first business proposal. Today, "[t]he mission of the Rensselaer Technology Park campus is to attract a diversity of technologies, especially those technologies reflective of the varied technological strengths of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, to develop collaborations that will make a positive impact on society." The supercomputer AiMOS (The Artificial Intelligence Multitasking Optimized System) was also installed in the Technology Park in 2019. The supercomputer was installed with the collaboration of IBM, Empire State Development, NY CREATES, and RPI. The park, along with its present day collaborators and companies are all in debt to the man who kickstarted it all, George Low.

Personal life[edit]

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, flew three times on the Space Shuttle, and died in 2008.

In popular culture[edit]

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.


  1. ^ McQuaid (2007), p. 429.
  2. ^ a b Murray & Cox (1989), p. 228.
  3. ^ McQuaid (2007), pp. 429–431.
  4. ^ Jurek (2019a), pp. 39–40.
  5. ^ Jurek (2019a), pp. 69–71.
  6. ^ Jurek (2019a), pp. 73–79.
  7. ^ Jurek (2018).
  8. ^ Barnes (2017), 21m:17s.
  9. ^ Jurek 2018, p. 51
  10. ^ "The Groundling Who Won". Time. January 3, 1969.
  11. ^ Jurek (2019a), p. 155.
  12. ^ Ward (2005), p. 203.
  13. ^ Neufeld (2007), pp. 456–457.
  14. ^ Jurek (2019a), pp. 165–166.


External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Succeeded by