R.I.P. John Young

Official portrait of John Young (Photo NASA)
Official portrait of John Young (Photo NASA)

On January 5 the American astronaut John Young passed away after complications from pneumonia.

John Watts Young was born on September 24, 1930 in San Francisco, California, USA. After earning a degree in aeronautical engineering in 1952, he enlisted in the US Navy, where he served during the Korean War. Subsequently, he received training as a pilot of helicopters and later of various combat aircraft. In 1959 he became a test pilot and during the many test flights he performed he established some world time-to-climb records.

In 1962 John Young joined NASA and in 1964 was chosen as a pilot for the Gemini 3 mission, the first of that program with a crew of two astronauts. The launch took place on March 23, 1965 for a flight lasting just under 5 hours. Young sneaked a sandwich on the spacecraft and ate it with commander “Gus” Grissom during the mission. The two of them scattered crumbs around the capsule and NASA didn’t take it well because even a small piece of bread could have created problems for some electronic equipment.

John Young was appointed commander of the Gemini 10 mission, launched on July 18, 1966 for a duration of almost 3 days. That mission was much more complex than Gemini 3 because included not only some scientific experiments but also a rendezvous with two Agena Target Vehicles (ATVs), automated spacecraft launched specifically for that type of test. His pilot Michael Collins also performed two spacewalks during the mission.

The next space mission for John Young was the Apollo 10, the second to orbit the Moon, with the role of command module pilot. During almost exactly 8 days, the crew conducted various tests to the lunar module, trying out the maneuvers needed to descend to the Moon and taking various photos of the site selected for the Moon landing in the Apollo 11 mission.

The fourth space mission for John Young was the Apollo 16 as commander. In just over 11 days after the launch on April 16, 1972, the crew reached the Moon, where Young and his colleague Charlie Duke spent nearly 3 days performing a series of scientific experiments and tests on a lunar rover used to explore the area.

In 1973 John Young became director of the new Space Shuttle Branch of the Astronaut Office and in 1974 director of the Astronaut Office. That didn’t mark the end of his career as an astronaut because he was assigned to the STS-1 mission, the first of the Space Shuttle program on the Columbia as a commander. The launch took place on April 12, 1981 and in the course a little over 2 days, along with his pilot Robert Crippen, he conducted a series of tests of the Columbia’s systems and performance.

The last space mission for John Young was the STS-9, again as commander of the Space Shuttle Columbia but this time with a crew that included 5 more people. The launch took place on November 28, 1983 and in the course of just over 10 days the first experiments were carried out in the Spacelab, a module to be used as a laboratory to conduct scientific research in space within a collaborative program between NASA and ESA. In the course of the landing, a loss of hydrazine caused a fire on the Columbia’s back. nevertheless the landing was successful.

John Young was considered for the mission that was to carry the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit, but the Challenger disaster stopped the entire Space Shuttle program. Young worked with various functions at NASA until 2004, when he officially retired. However, he kept on collaborating with the agency for several more years.

Duting his life, John Young was married twice: from 1956 to 1972 with Barbara White, with whom he had a son and daughter, and later with Susy Feldman.

During his life John Young received various awards and decorations from the Navy, NASA and the American Congress. They show in part his extraordinary contribution to decades of space missions. His passing means the loss of one of the men who have been on the Moon and in general of one of the great pioneers of space travel, a man who thought that the future of the human species was in space.

John Young on the Moon (Photo NASA)
John Young on the Moon (Photo NASA)

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