Maxime A. Faget, 83, a retired NASA aeronautical engineer whose innovative designs contributed greatly to manned spacecraft from Mercury to the space shuttle, died of cancer Oct. 10 at his home in Houston.

In his early years with NASA, Dr. Faget used his expertise in aerodynamics to help conceptualize the shape of the Mercury space capsule, which was then used as a model for the Apollo spacecraft.

He came up with the capsules' contoured couch for astronauts as well as an escape tower fitted on top of the Mercury and Gemini capsules in cases of emergency. The Russians, who copied Dr. Faget's escape system, put it to use in 1983 when a fire on a launchpad nearly killed two cosmonauts.

Dr. Faget's early proposals helped him become one of the original 35 scientists selected to form a special task force with the goal of successfully launching and recovering manned capsules. The Space Task Group, which had been headquartered in Langley, moved its operations to Houston and later became the Johnson Space Center.

Dr. Faget rose to chief of engineering at the space center, a post he held for about 20 years until he retired in 1981.

To his colleagues in NASA, Dr. Faget was the idea man of Project Mercury. Others called him "Mr. Space." Despite holding a senior-level position, Dr. Faget was rarely in the media spotlight.

"He was very humble and willing to share credit with those around him," said his daughter Nanette Cerna. "He was very dedicated, very passionate about his job and service to his country."

Dr. Faget, who was fond of wearing bow ties, joined an engineering firm after retiring from NASA. He then became a founder of Space Industries Inc., which planned to launch an orbiting research laboratory. Dr. Faget served as president and chief executive of the Houston-based company until his final retirement in 1994.

He was born in Stancreek, British Honduras, what is now Belize. His father, Dr. Guy Faget, had been a physician stationed in British Honduras with the U.S. Public Health Service. The younger Dr. Faget, who spent part of his childhood in New Orleans, graduated in 1943 from Louisiana State University with a degree in mechanical engineering.

Dr. Faget entered the Navy Midshipman's School, then the Diesel and Submarine schools. He made two war patrols on the submarine Guavina and received a letter of commendation for diving overboard to rescue downed flyers off the coast of China.

He also served in the Navy Reserve, attaining the rank of lieutenant commander.

Dr. Faget, who received two honorary doctorates in engineering -- one from his alma mater and the other from the University of Pittsburgh -- authored the book "Manned Space Flight" and wrote numerous technical papers on aircraft performance, rocketry and reentry theory.

His wife of 47 years, Nancy Faget, died in 1994.

In addition to his daughter Nanette, of Houston, survivors include two other daughters, Carol Faget of Austin and Ann Faget of Houston; a son, Guy Faget of Baton Rouge, La.; a brother; and 10 grandchildren.

Aeronautical engineer Maxime A. Faget helped design the shape of the Mercury space capsule and an escape tower for it.