The Ultimate Engineer


The Ultimate Engineer

The Remarkable Life of NASA's Visionary Leader George M. Low

Richard Jurek

Foreword by Gerald D. Griffin

Outward Odyssey: A People's History of Spaceflight Series

344 pages
38 photographs, 1 appendix, index


December 2019


$32.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

December 2019


$32.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

December 2019


$32.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

From the late 1950s to 1976 the U.S. manned spaceflight program advanced as it did largely due to the extraordinary efforts of Austrian immigrant George M. Low. Described as the “ultimate engineer” during his career at NASA, Low was a visionary architect and leader from the agency’s inception in 1958 to his retirement in 1976. As chief of manned spaceflight at NASA, Low was instrumental in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. Low’s pioneering work paved the way for President Kennedy’s decision to make a lunar landing NASA’s primary goal in the 1960s. After the tragic 1967 Apollo 1 fire that took the lives of three astronauts and almost crippled the program, Low took charge of the redesign of the Apollo spacecraft, and he helped lead the program from disaster and toward the moon. In 1968 Low made the bold decision to go for lunar orbit on Apollo 8 before the lunar module was ready for flight and after only one Earth orbit test flight of the command and service modules. Under Low there were five manned missions, including Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing.

Low’s clandestine negotiations with the Soviet Union resulted in a historic joint mission in 1975 that was the precursor to the Shuttle-Mir and International Space Station programs. At the end of his NASA career, Low was one of the leading figures in the development of the space shuttle in the early 1970s, and he was instrumental in NASA’s transition into a post-Apollo world. Afterward, he embarked on a distinguished career in higher education as a transformational president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, his alma mater. Chronicling Low’s escape from Nazi-occupied Austria to his helping land a man on the moon, The Ultimate Engineer sheds new light on one of the most fascinating and complex personalities of the golden age of U.S. manned space travel.

Author Bio

Richard Jurek is a contributor to the Smithsonian’s Air & Space magazine and website and is the coauthor of Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program with David Meerman Scott. Gerald D. Griffin is a former director of the NASA Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston and also served as the deputy director of the John F. Kennedy Space Center and the Hugh F. Dryden Flight Research Center.



"The result of Jurek's extensive research and careful use of detail is a comprehensive portrait of a figure vastly greater in significance than in name recognition."—Publishers Weekly

"This well-researched book is as much a history of NASA as a biography of George Low, and as such is an important contribution to the history of the agency. Jurek's detailed book will appeal to both fans and scholars of NASA and of the engineers like Low who make the agency's spaceflights work."—Sara R. Tompson, Library Journal

"In his engaging biography, The Ultimate Engineer: The Remarkable Life of NASA’s Visionary Leader George M. Low, Richard Jurek follows Low’s life from his early years in Austria as Europe slid toward World War II, through his family’s move to the United States and his military service at the end of the war, followed by his education and long service at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and NASA. . . . The Ultimate Engineer is an important introduction to life and work of George Low."—Christopher Gainor, Quest

“It took four hundred thousand people for NASA to reach the moon, but one was absolutely essential: a soft-spoken, brilliant engineer named George Low. As this detailed, well-written account reveals, from Apollo’s very conception to its recovery from tragedy to its historic triumphs, Low was Apollo’s essential man.”—Andrew Chaikin, author of A Man on the Moon

“George Low is one of the unsung heroes of spaceflight, but there’s never been a thorough examination of his life and the important contributions he made to Apollo and other NASA programs. The Ultimate Engineer finally fills this huge gap in human spaceflight history!”—Peter King, correspondent for CBS News Radio

“The real book about NASA and human spaceflight should be about George Low.”—George W. S. Abbey, former director of the Johnson Space Center

“This Austrian immigrant, a specialist in aerodynamics, proved to be the perfect leader of the Apollo spacecraft engineering team—as well as a key political operator in America’s human space programs from Mercury to the space shuttle. In The Ultimate Engineer Richard Jurek tells Low’s unique and inspiring story, filling a huge hole in the history.”—Michael Cassutt, novelist, screenwriter, and coauthor of Deke! and We Have Capture


“George Low was a central figure in one of history’s greatest engineering projects—the first human voyages to the moon. Even though Apollo was a team effort, it never would have happened without leaders of great dedication and talent. In this valuable new book, Rich Jurek gives us the first full-length portrait of one of the least-known but most important of these Apollo-era giants.”—Tony Reichhardt, senior editor of Air & Space magazine

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. New Beginnings
2. A Man in Space, Soonest
3. Toward a Worthy Goal
4. The Longest Days
5. Post-Apollo
6. Giving Back to the Future

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