updated 10/10/2004 9:55:35 PM ET 2004-10-11T01:55:35

Maxime A. Faget, a pioneering NASA engineer who designed the original spacecraft for Project Mercury and whose work helped create every human spacecraft the agency has launched since, has died. He was 83.

Faget died Saturday at his home in Houston, the space agency announced Sunday on its Web site.

In 1958, Faget joined the Space Task Group, which evolved into the NASA Johnson Space Center.

“Without Max Faget’s innovative designs and thoughtful approach to problem solving, America’s space program would have had trouble getting off the ground,” said NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe. “He also was an aeronautics pioneer. In fact, it was his work on supersonic flight research that eventually led to his interest in space flight.”

Faget’s career with NASA began in 1946, when he joined the staff of Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., as a research scientist. He worked in the Pilotless Aircraft Research Division and later directed the Performance Aerodynamics Branch.

He conceived of and proposed the development of the one-man spacecraft used in Project Mercury, NASA said.

“Max Faget was truly a legend of the manned space flight program,” said Christopher C. Kraft, former Johnson Space Center director. “There is no one in space flight history in this or any other country who has had a larger impact on man’s quest in space exploration. ... History will remember him as one of the really great scientists of the 20th century.”

Faget was part of the original feasibility study for the space shuttle and helped develop the reusable spacecraft.

After retiring from NASA, Faget was among the founders of one of the early private space companies, Space Industries Inc., established in 1982.

Faget’s wife, Nancy, died in 1994. He is survived by a son, three daughters and 10 grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

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