NOVA Online (click here for NOVA home)
To the Moon
Site Map


Faget Max Faget
Hear Faget via RealAudio

Get RealAudio software

Max Faget

In 1958, Maxime A. Faget joined the space task group in NASA, forerunner of the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center that became the Johnson Space Center, and he became its assistant director for engineering and development in 1962 and later its director. He contributed many of the original design concepts for Project Mercury's manned spacecraft and played a major role in designing virtually every U.S. crewed spacecraft since that time, including the Space Shuttle.

On NASA before Kennedy's speech about going to the moon before the end of the decade: "We were thinking about it. We were thinking about a rather comfortable program, if you want to put it that way."
Well, we had thought about going to the moon before Kennedy said so, and as a matter of fact, Kennedy talked to NASA and said, Do you have any plans to go to the moon? And that answer was yes. We were thinking about it. We were thinking about a rather comfortable program, if you want to put it that way. We were not planning to land on the moon as a first part of the lunar program. We were planning to send men so that they could orbit the moon. First, they would just fly by and then shortly after that we would orbit the moon, and then we'd make some decisions on whether we'd land on the moon. And we expected to land on the moon sooner or later, because it was so close, and because everybody could see the moon and it made a very good target for the next program after Mercury. Now mind you, in those days we were just beginning on Mercury. We had just started that one and we had to get that one behind us before we went any further. But I might say, as Mercury developed, our plans became more and more ambitious. By the time that Kennedy said—which was after our first launch in Mercury, the sub-orbital flight that Shepard made - well, after that was when Kennedy made the announcement, and then we had a pretty good idea of making the landing and things like that, but they were not worked out in detail, they were just rough plans on how to do that sort of thing. And I might mention a lot of our thinking changed as we got into the details of the engineering.

On the Russian space program: "Now, when NASA got into cooperative programs with the Russians, I was truly amazed at the sophistication, particularly their mechanical engineers—they were very good."

Hear Faget via RealAudio
The Russians, really, when we started the manned space program, they had a big advantage over us. This had to do with the size of the nuclear bomb. The Russian bomb was much cruder than ours, so consequently they had to use a much larger launch vehicle to deliver a nuclear device if they were going to attack the United States. And we, with what you might call a sophisticated nuclear device, didn't need that size of rocket. So the rockets that were being developed before manned spaceflight really accommodated the ballistic missile program, and they ended up with a much bigger one, so it made it easy for them to do a lot of things with that heavy lift capability. As a consequence, my own thinking was, Well, the Russians, if they had a crude bomb and they had to make things big, well, they did that. But we had a much better class of engineering. Now, when NASA got into cooperative programs with the Russians, I was truly amazed at the sophistication, particularly their mechanical engineers—they were very good. Electronic-wise they were behind us, but from the standpoint of mechanical engineering they are our equals, no doubt about it.

On what to bring to the moon: "Shoemaker, for instance, thought we ought to only carry black and white film."

Hear Faget via RealAudio
We designed the vehicle to land on a certain kind of surface and after that was done, that was between the operations people and the scientists on where to go, and I never felt that they had a very heated debate about this. We did have some problems with the kind of equipment that should be carried. Shoemaker, for instance, thought we ought to only carry black and white film. Black and white film is much more forgiving if you don't have the right lens or opening, things like that, I know it's got a broader range. But we just said we're going to use colored film, because people on Earth are going to want to see what the moon really looked like and so we carried colored film. It's that simple. It turned out, by the way, that the moon was not just all a bunch of different shades of gray, but it actually had some other colors, some brown and some shades of green and things like that mixed in with the gray. Of course, it was deeply, mostly gray.

On why a space vehicle should not be aerodynamic: "Now when you have a blunt face like that you create a huge shockwave, and all the drag is related to the shockwave and all the heat goes into the shockwave."

Hear Faget via RealAudio
Why? Because the higher drag vehicles have less heating during entry than the low drag vehicles. When you enter the atmosphere, when something enters the atmosphere, it slows down on account of drag. Now when you have a blunt face like that you create a huge shockwave, and all the drag is related to the shockwave and all the heat goes into the shockwave. If you don't have that, you got a very streamlined vehicle, then you end up with what's normally termed—which is not an accurate term—but it's called friction drag. This drag is taken by the skin friction of the vehicle and all of the heat goes into the vehicle as opposed to it going into the shockwave.

Back to Hear the Space Pioneers



Photo: NASA



Explore the Moon | Lunar Puzzlers | Last Man on the Moon
Hear the Space Pioneers | Origins | Resources
Transcript | Site Map | To the Moon Home

Editor's Picks | Previous Sites | Join Us/E-mail | TV/Web Schedule
About NOVA | Teachers | Site Map | Shop | Jobs | Search | To print
PBS Online | NOVA Online | WGBH

© | Updated November 2000

Support provided by

For new content
visit the redesigned
NOVA site