The arrival of 2019 heralds a singular historical moment. Later this year, Americans and others around the world will mark the 50th anniversary of the first human landing on the moon. It happened on July 20, 1969, when a module that was part of the Apollo 11 mission touched down on the Sea of Tranquility, allowing astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to set foot on the lunar surface.
It was a huge accomplishment hailed across the globe, and an LSU graduate had a big hand in making it possible. Or so we were reminded by a recent letter to the editor from Howard Franques, a retired lawyer in Lafayette. Franques pointed out that Max Faget, who earned a degree in mechanical engineering from LSU in 1943, helped design the spacecraft that made the Apollo landings on the moon possible. Franques suggested that a statue of Faget should be erected at LSU. That would be a tall order to accomplish this year, but it would be particularly notable if such an honor happened in 2019, as a landmark anniversary of the moon landing gets so much attention.
Faget’s work at NASA was indeed impressive, and we don’t have to take Franques’ word for it. As the Encylopedia Britannica notes, Faget was “an American aerospace engineer who made major contributions to the design of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo spacecraft and to the space shuttle.” In 1961, after President John F. Kennedy announced his commitment to landing a man on the moon, Faget became the chief engineer for the effort. In 1969, Faget led the preliminary design team for a reusable spacecraft, which became the space shuttle. He oversaw the shuttle’s development until its first test flights in 1981. The space shuttle had another important connection to Louisiana because of the construction of its fuel tanks at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.
Faget retired from NASA in 1981, but he remained active in space exploration. He died in 2004 at 83.
“Faget is the LSU graduate who has made the greatest contribution to the advancement of the human race and yet, very few people know who he was and what he achieved,” Franques noted in his letter. “LSU has honored several athletes and one U.S. senator with statues, but no academics. A Max Faget statue would inform and inspire students, alumni and visitors to the campus, letting them know who this man was and what he did to drive the world forward into a new dimension.”
It’s an intriguing idea, and we hope LSU and its supporters explore it.