George Michael Low was born George Wilhelm Low on June 10, 1926, near Vienna, Austria. His parents were Artur and Gertrude Burger Low, small business people in Austria. With the German occupation of Austria in 1938, four years after Artur Low's death, his family emigrated to the United States. In 1943, Low graduated from Forest Hills High School, Forest Hills, New York, and entered Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). His education was interrupted by World War II; he served in the U.S. Army from 1944 to 1946. While doing so, he became a naturalized American citizen, and legally changed his name to George Michael Low.
After military service Low returned to RPI and received his Bachelor of Aeronautical Engineering degree in 1948. He then worked at General Dynamics (Convair) in Fort Worth, Texas, as a mathematician in an aerodynamics group. Low returned to RPI late in 1948, however, and received his Master of Science degree in aeronautical engineering in 1950. In 1949, he married Mary Ruth McNamara of Troy, New York. Between 1952 and 1963, they had five children: Mark S., Diane E., George David, John M., and Nancy A.
After completing his M.S. degree, Low joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) as an engineer at the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland, Ohio (later the Lewis Research Center). He became head of the Fluid Mechanics Section (1954-1956) and Chief of the Special Projects Branch (1956-1958). Low specialized in experimental and theoretical research in the fields of heat transfer, boundary layer flows, and internal aerodynamics. In addition, he worked on such space technology problems as orbit calculations, reentry paths, and space rendezvous techniques.
During the summer and autumn of 1958, preceding the formation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Low worked on a planning team to organize the new aerospace agency. Soon after NASA's formal organization in October 1958, Low transferred to the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C., where he served as Chief of Manned Space Flight. In this capacity, he was closely involved in the planning of Projects Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo.
In February 1964, Low transferred to NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas (now the Johnson Space Center), and served as Deputy Center Director. In April 1967, following the Apollo 204 fire, he was named Manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office (ASPO) where he was responsible for directing the changes to the Apollo spacecraft necessary to make it flight worthy.
George Low became NASA Deputy Administrator in December 1969, serving with Administrators Thomas O. Paine and James C. Fletcher. As such, he became one of the leading figures in the early development of the Space Shuttle, the Skylab program, and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.
He retired from NASA in 1976 to become president of RPI, a position he still held at his death. He died of cancer on July 17, 1984.
For further information on George Low, see Sylvia B. Kennick, The George M. Low Papers (Troy, NY: Institute Archives and Special Collections, 1988).