NASA’s first reusable spacecraft began in the garage of this Dickinson house
When she was growing up, Nanette Faget’s parents told her she was born a week after the house they were building on Dickinson Bayou was finished. That was in 1962. Faget grew up in the house, a low, mid-century modern brick home situated at a precise angle that frames the picturesque bend in the bayou just beyond its backyard.
“My father oriented the house on the lot for the exact best view of the bayou,” Faget said.
Trees draped with Spanish moss host bird feeders within view from vast windows along the open family room and kitchen. In the distance, pinpoints of sunlight dance across still bayou waters.
Nanette’s father, Maxime Faget, was home for dinner every night from his job at NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center in the 1960s and ’70s, despite the demands of his job as director of engineering and development, she said.
Her father tinkered in his garage workshop, building bookcases and furniture. He built a wooden rowboat for his four kids, she said.
Beginning in 1969, in the same garage, Maxime Faget fashioned a three-dimensional balsa wood model of NASA’s first reusable spacecraft, later known as the space shuttle, solidifying his already formidable reputation as designer or overseer of the design of every NASA manned spacecraft from the first Mercury missions to the shuttle.
“He engineered the design that allowed the shuttle to take off vertically and land horizontally,” Faget said, illustrating with a raised hand.
World-renowned and destined for the National Space Hall of Fame, among other accolades, Maxime Faget was just dad in the Faget house on the bayou.
Nanette Faget and her siblings were free to roam in an era before fences, she said.
“We had a lot of freedom to run around town,” she said. “We just had to be back by dinner.”
Though she didn’t think much of it as a child, Nanette Faget had a sense of her father’s importance based on dinner conversations she overheard, she said. Guests might have included other NASA personnel living in Dickinson and surrounding communities, or they might have been even more famous figures, like rocket scientist Wernher von Braun.
In 1976, the Dickinson High School football team went to the state championship. Nanette Faget was in the marching band that played the Star Wars theme at the half-time show.
She lived in the bayou house from 1962 until she went away to college in 1980, then moved to the Clear Lake area for her own career as a NASA engineer and branch chief. Her father lived near her until he died in 2004.
In 2005, the year after her father’s death, Faget returned to her childhood home and bought it back from its only owner outside the Faget family until now.
The house flooded in Hurricane Harvey in 2017, taking on 4 feet of muddy bayou water, and had to be completely rebuilt, she said. Faget restored it as close to its original state as possible, treasuring its lines and building materials, its spirit and the memories it held, she said.
“When I think of my dad, I think of his sense of humor, the twinkle in his eye,” Faget said. “He loved to tell jokes. He was clever and innovative and he always remained humble.”
The workbenches in the garage remained just as Maxime Faget left them until the flood, she said. Now they are swept clean.
Nanette Faget recently sold the house in anticipation of a move to Seattle with her husband, retired astronaut Greg C. Johnson, pilot of the final space shuttle mission to the Hubble Space Telescope.
“We thought it would be our forever home, but it didn’t work out that way,” Faget said.
On a June afternoon, Faget surveys the rooms of her childhood and finds a house worthy of commemorating. A certificate on the wall of the still private home signifies its designation as an historic landmark by the Dickinson Historical Society.
Historically, the certificate says, it will be known as the Max Faget House: Birthplace of the Space Shuttle.