Beginning his career designing supersonic aircraft as a part of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (later renamed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA) propulsion and performance team at Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, Faget contributed to the design of the X-15, an experimental plane that flew Mach 6.
In 1957, with the launch of the Russian satellite Sputnik, the US knew that the race was on to successfully launch the first manned spacecraft. This new challenge had a unique set of problems, namely the protection of its occupant from high gravity forces and atmospheric friction upon re-entry. Drawing on aerodynamic principles established by Harvey Allen in the mid 1950's, Faget led the flight systems division that designed the Mercury capsule with a blunt-bodied capsule, allowing it to slow down higher in the atmosphere and reduce the amount of friction and heat upon re-entry.
Faget also designed the Mercury capsule with an escape tower that would enable astronauts to instantly eject from the capsule in the event of catastrophic booster failure. This forward-thinking escape tower design saved the lives of two Russian cosmonauts in 1983.
Evolving this successful design for Mercury, Faget then collaborated with Caldwell Johnson to design the Apollo capsule and service module for lunar landing. Faget converted the Apollo design into two parts, a command-service module that would orbit the moon and a separate lunar-landing craft.
His intuition in the development of the Apollo capsule rang true when designers were estimating the amount of heat shielding necessary on the lee (or sheltered) side of the capsule. Engineers advocated about an inch-thick layer of material on the lee side of the craft, while Faget advocated the use of none, arguing that it wasn't necessary. Upon Apollo's return from the moon, his intuition was correct, as evidenced by an intact thin Mylar dustsheet on the insulation.
Throughout his career, Faget utilized information gained from flight-testing to come up with new solutions to a problem. Even as NASA was developing the Apollo lunar landing craft, it was setting its sights on a reusable space shuttle. Faget envisioned this shuttle with a straight-wing design. In the end, NASA opted for a delta-shaped design that differed in several ways from Faget's patented plan, but all in all, Faget was satisfied with the final result, remarking "She really is a marvelous machine."
Faget was born in 1921 in British Honduras to noted tropical disease specialist, Dr. Guy Faget. He grew up reading Astounding Science Fiction novels and building model airplanes, which he used in competitions.
Graduating from the University of Louisiana in 1943 with a Bachelor of Science, Faget has been the recipient of honorary doctorates from Louisiana State University and the University of Pittsburgh. He has also received the NASA Medal for Outstanding Leadership, the Outstanding Accomplishment Award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), and the Gold Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Faget left NASA in 1981 to pursue other design work and in 1983 he founded Space Industries, Inc., to design an industrial space facility. Space Industries developed orbiting work platforms to be launched on a shuttle mission. The platforms were designed to produce pharmaceuticals, electrical crystals, and metals that could not be made within the earth's gravitational environment.