Astronaut John Young Passes Away at the Age of 87

by | Jan 6, 2018

Astronaut John Young passed away Friday evening at the age of 87 due to complications from pneumonia.

NASA honored Young’s legacy as their “most experienced astronaut,” noting that he had flown twice to the Moon, walked on its surface, and flew the first Space Shuttle mission. He was the only astronaut to have flown during the Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle programs.

Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot remembered Young in a statement:

Today, NASA and the world have lost a pioneer. Astronaut John Young’s storied career spanned three generations of spaceflight; we will stand on his shoulders as we look toward the next human frontier.

John was one of that group of early space pioneers whose bravery and commitment sparked our nation’s first great achievements in space. But, not content with that, his hands-on contributions continued long after the last of his six spaceflights — a world record at the time of his retirement from the cockpit…

I participated in many Space Shuttle Flight Readiness Reviews with John, and will always remember him as the classic ‘hell of an engineer’ from Georgia Tech, who had an uncanny ability to cut to the heart of a technical issue by posing the perfect question — followed by his iconic phrase, ‘Just asking…’

John Young was at the forefront of human space exploration with his poise, talent, and tenacity.  He was in every way the ‘astronaut’s astronaut.’ We will miss him.

Young was born September 24, 1930 in San Francisco, California. As a child, he loved reading and building model airplanes, a hint of his future career. His family moved to Georgia, and then Florida, where he graduated from Orlando High School (which split into Edgewater High School and Boone High School in 1952). Young then earned a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering with highest honors from Georgia Institute of Technology in 1952.

Young left his mark on the Orlando area, with John Young Parkway, an elementary school, and the original planetarium at the Orlando Science Center all bearing his name.

After graduating from Georgia Tech, he joined the Navy, where he served on the west coast destroyer USS LAWS (DD-558) during the Korean War. He then went on to flight training and was assigned to Fighter Squadron 103 for 4 years, flying Cougars and Crusaders, and then later a test pilot for the Navy’s Crusade and Phantom fighter weapons systems. In the Phantom, he set world time-to-climb records to 3,000-meter and 25,000-meter altitudes, both in 1962. He had achieved the rank of Captain when he retired from the Navy in 1976, after 25 years of active duty service.

Inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 speech about sending a man to the moon and returning him safely to Earth, Young joined NASA in 1962.

“I thought returning safely to Earth sounded like a good idea,” said Young.

His first flight as an astronaut was in March 1965, on Gemini 3 along with Gus Grissom. His career with NASA would span three decades and would include numerous firsts, including in April 1981, when he commanded the first Space Shuttle flight, on Columbia’s maiden flight.

He was awarded more than 80 major honors and awards, including four honorary doctorate degrees, including the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, three NASA Distinguished Service Medals, the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, two Navy Distinguished Service Medals, three Navy Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Georgia Tech Distinguished Young Alumni Award, the Exceptional Engineering Achievement Award the American Astronautical Society Space Flight Award, and being inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1988.

When he retired from NASA in 2004, Young was quoted as saying, “I’ve been very lucky, I think.” And when asked which moment was most memorable, his answer was simple:

“I liked them all.”

Young and his wife Susy had two children and three grandchildren.

Fair winds and following seas, Sir.

Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker

[Cross-posted at RedState.]


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