G. David Low, a NASA astronaut who served on three space shuttle missions before becoming a space industry executive, died March 15 of colon cancer at a hospital in Reston, Va. He was 52.
During his 12 years as an astronaut, Low logged more than 714 hours in space, circling Earth more than 540 times.
In June 1993, he was payload commander aboard the Endeavour, launched to recover the free-flying European Retrievable Carrier satellite.
Four days into the mission, his third space flight, Low and fellow astronaut Peter “Jeff” Wisoff ventured outside the spacecraft, where they worked for five hours and 50 minutes.
On his first flight into space, an 11-day mission aboard the space shuttle Columbia three years earlier, Low carried a pair of 159-year-old socks that had belonged to Ezra Cornell, founder of the university that bears his name. (Low had received a bachelor’s degree at Cornell.)
At 33, he was the mission’s youngest crew member, and, at 5 feet 9 and 145 pounds, the skinniest. That made him the obvious candidate for an experiment in which he would cram himself into a vacuum container designed to force blood from the upper body, where it accumulates during weightlessness, into the legs. Scientists hoped the transfer of fluids downward would reduce the fainting sensation astronauts experienced back on Earth.
Low said he had a primary objective on his first flight: “I guess I’ll be very, very happy if we can get the wheels stopped and I haven’t screwed anything up. That would be a tremendous relief, to go through 10 days and know that I did it right.”
The rookie crew member had a legacy to uphold. His father, George Low, was a former NASA director who was the first to suggest to President Kennedy in 1960 that an astronaut could walk on the moon within the decade.
The elder Low, who died in 1984, also directed the Gemini and Apollo missions.
George David Low was born in Cleveland in 1956.
He received a bachelor’s degree in physics and engineering from Washington and Lee University in 1978, a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from Cornell in 1980 and a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics from Stanford University in 1983.
From 1980 to 1984, he worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge, where he was involved in preliminary planning for several planetary space probes. He also helped with the systems engineering design of the Galileo probe, a $1.4-billion spacecraft launched from the shuttle Atlantis in 1990.
He was selected as a NASA astronaut in 1984 and at 28 was the youngest in his class. He worked on the shuttle’s robot arm system and on plans for future spacewalks.
He also served as the spacecraft communicator, or “capcom,” for three shuttle missions, including the first flight after the loss of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986.
On his first spaceflight -- the one with the antique socks -- he helped retrieve a science satellite called the Long Duration Exposure Facility. The 10 1/2 -ton satellite, the size of a school bus, was in danger of plunging to a fiery destruction, taking with it six years of scientific information from nearly 57 experiments. Crew members filmed their activities for a 1994 Imax feature, “Destiny in Space.”
On his second flight, in 1991, Low helped to launch NASA’s fifth Tracking and Data Relay Satellite and conduct more than 30 experiments related to plans for the future space station.
He worked for NASA for three years after his last flight. He served on the agency’s Russian Integration Team, which worked out changes between the Space Station Freedom and International Space Station programs. He also assisted NASA’s legislative affairs office.
He joined Orbital Sciences Corp., based in Dulles, Va., in 1996, serving as vice president of safety and mission assurance for the company’s launch systems group. In 2006, he became senior vice president and program manager for the company’s commercial orbital transportation service program.
Survivors include his wife of 15 years, JoAnn Andochick Low of Sterling, Va.; three children, his mother, two brothers and two sisters.