George Low

George M. Low

George Michael Low (GML) was born Georg Wilhelm Low on 10 June 1926 near Vienna, Austria. His parents, Artur and Gertrude (Burger) Low, owned farm land and ran an industrial alcohol factory. In 1938, four years after Artur Low's death, the Low family emigrated to the United States. Travelling via Switzerland and England, they arrived here in 1940. In 1943, GML graduated from Forest Hills High School, Forest Hills, NY, and entered Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). Originally registering his major course of study as mechanical engineering, he changed to aeronautical engineering in his sophmore year. GML was also a member of the Delta Phi fraternity and, from 1943 to 1948, served as secretary, treasurer and then president of the RPI chapter. From 1944 to 1946, GML served in the U.S. Army as a topographic draftsman. He also received his pilot's license at this time. In 1945, he became a naturalized American citizen, and legally changed his name to George Michael Low. After receiving his Bachelor of Aeronautical Engineering degree from RPI in 1948, GML worked at General Dynamics (Convair) in Fort Worth, TX. As a mathematician in an aerodynamics group, he conducted performance calculations for bomber aircraft. GML returned to RPI later in 1948 to continue work in aeronautical engineering. He received his Master of Science degree in 1950. In 1949, GML married Mary Ruth McNamara of Troy, NY. Between 1952 and 1963, they had five children: Mark S., Diane E., George David, John M. and Nancy A.

In 1949, GML joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) as an Aeronautical Research Scientist at the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland, OH (later the Lewis Research Center). As Research Scientist, and later Head of the Fluid Mechanics Section (1954-1956) and Chief of the Special Projects Branch (1956-1958), GML 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. While at Lewis, GML also taught graduate-level courses in advanced engineering mathematics, heat transfer, and boundary layer theory.

During the summer and autumn of 1958, preceding the formation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), GML worked both in Cleveland and Washington, DC. He supported Abe Silverstein at Headquarters in planning the scope of the new agency, and worked with Robert Gilruth in putting together the final plans for Project Mercury.

Soon after the organization of NASA in October 1958, GML transferred to the agency's headquarters in Washington, DC. Under Abe Silverstein, then Director of Space Flight Programs, he served as Chief of Manned Space Flight. In this capacity, he was closely involved in the planning of Projects Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. From April to December 1959, GML also participated in NASA's Goett Committee. This select group studied and suggested a number of agency objectives, among them a lunar landing. GML's Manned Lunar Landing Task Group, which was formed in Oct. 1960, supported the manned lunar landing goal through its investigation of technical and planning requirements. In Jan. 1961, the Manned Lunar Program Planning Group, of which GML was chairman, began to prepare the position paper detailing the Program plan, including cost and schedule estimates. The findings of the Planning Group provided the technical background for President John Kennedy's decision in May 1961 to commit the U.S. to landing a man on the moon before the end of that decade.

As the space program expanded and NASA reorganized in an attempt to better manage its projects, GML moved quickly through positions of increasing responsibility. In June 1961, he was named Assistant Director of Manned Space Flight Programs under the Office of Space Flight Programs. In Nov. of that year, when the Office reorganized into the Office of Manned Space Flight (OMSF) under the direction of D. Brainerd Holmes, GML became Director of Spacecraft and Flight Missions. Early in 1963, when GML became one of two Deputy Directors of OMSF, he assumed responsibility of launch vehicle and space medicine programs, as well as spacecraft development. Later that year, he was named Deputy Associate Administrator of the Office which was now run by Associate Administrator George Mueller. As Mueller's Deputy, GML took charge of the overall management and direction of the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Advanced Manned Missions Programs, and the field centers directly associated with those programs. In Feb. 1964, GML transfered to NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, TX (now the Johnson Space Center). As Deputy Director under Robert Gilruth, GML functioned as the Center's general manager. He had overall responsibility for the Gemini and Apollo spacecraft efforts, as well as future program planning and development. Such future projects included Apollo Applications (later the Skylab program), the Lunar Receiving Laboratory, and space science experiments. GML also managed flight operations, and oversaw the selection and training of astronauts.

In April 1967, following the Apollo 204 fire, GML was named Manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office (ASPO). To make and keep Apollo flightworthy, he oversaw the detailed redesign, development, manufacture and testing of the nearly 4 million parts which made up the Apollo Command and Service Module, and the Lunar Module. GML's activities included management of the program budget, continued investigation of flight anomalies, and coordination of information, changes and procedures among the ASPO engineers and scientists, contractors, and other NASA centers. Under his direction, eight Apollo flights were successfully flown. Among these missions were Apollo 8, the first manned lunar orbital flight (Dec. 1968) (the plan for which was initiated by GML), and Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing (July 1969).

GML was appointed Deputy Administrator of NASA by President Richard Nixon in Dec. 1969. Under NASA Administrators Thomas O. Paine and later James C. Fletcher, GML served as the agency's "general manager," with lead responsibility for internal activities. He oversaw center and agency planning, budget formulation and use, management of personnel and facilities, and the development and operation of myriad programs and projects from satellite systems to the Space Shuttle Program. Through his management and planning, GML also strived to guide NASA through its post-Apollo transition toward new goals for the 1970's and 1980's. During his tenure as Acting Administrator, Sept. 1970-May 1971, GML managed and developed many of NASA's exterior contacts. These included the negotiation of a space agreement with the Soviet Union, which lay the foundation for the Apollo-Soyuz flight in 1975, and other joint space projects.

Although GML left NASA's employ in 1976, he continued his association with the agency, offering his services as a consultant. In this capacity, he participated in such activities as Space Shuttle reviews, NASA institutional assessment meetings, and President-elect Ronald Reagan's NASA Transition Team. The latter activity, of which GML was Team chairman, involved the assessment of NASA's strengths and weaknesses in 1980.

In the spring of 1976, GML accepted RPI's offer to become the 14th President of the Institute. During his eight years in office, he developed RPI into a nationally renowned research university, broadened the Institute's programs to include several new areas of technology and, through these programs, established RPI as a setting for the cooperative interface of academia, industry and government. GML developed the concept of Rensselaer 2000 as a planning guide for the university, undertook major fund-raising activities, and oversaw the completion of such campus building and renovation projects as the Jonsson Engineering Center and the Voorhees Computing Center. RPI's ties to industry and government were physically realized in the development of the Rensselaer Technology Park in North Greenbush (1981), implementation of the Incubator Program (1981), and the establishment of new cooperative programs through the Centers for Interactive Computer Graphics (1978), Manufacturing Productivity and Technology Transfer (1979), and Integrated Electronics (1981). These Centers formed the basis of GML's 1981 proposal to Gov. Hugh Carey to establish New York State's Center for Industrial Innovation (CII) at RPI. The CII was renamed the George M. Low Center for Industrial Innovation in 1984.

Supplemental to his careers at NASA and RPI, GML was involved in numerous professional activities. These included active membership in higher education organizations, industrial boards and advisory committees, and a variety of committees and organizations focussing on engineering and technology issues. Through his work with these national, state and local organizations and committees, he dealt with such issues as industrial competitiveness, productivity, technology policy, scientific communication and national security, and postsecondary school education. GML influenced local industry directly in such roles as General Electric Co. Board member, and advisor to Mechanical Technology, Inc. On the state level, he participated in education and public policy groups, including the Association of Colleges and Universities of the State of New York (ACUSNY), the New York State Education Commissioner's Advisory Council on Postsecondary Education, and the New York Council on State Priorities. Among GML's more visible national activities was his chairmanship of the National Research Council's committee to examine the operation and maintenance procedures of the Federal Aviation Administration following the 1979 DC-10 crash in Chicago. GML also served as the first chairman of the influential Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy (COSEPUP), established by the National Academies of Science and Engineering.

GML received numerous honorary degrees and awards for his leadership of, and contributions to, the space program, local and national government, and RPI. Among his honorary degrees was a doctorate in engineering from RPI (1969). Honors and awards included numerous NASA awards, such as three Distinguished Service Medals (1969, 1981), as well as the Arthur S. Fleming Award (Ten Outstanding Young Men in Government) (1963), the National Space Club's Goddard Memorial Trophy (1973), the Rockefeller Public Service Award (1974), the National Academy of Engineering Founders Medal (1978), and the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art (1980). In 1984, GML received posthumously both the National Science Foundation's National Medal of Science, and the National Medal of Freedom.

George M. Low died on 17 July 1984 at the age of 58, after a determined fight with cancer.

Brown, Sylvia K. Guide to the George M. Low Papers, 1930-1984. Troy, N.Y. : Institute Archives and Special Collections, Folsom Library, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1988

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