Yesterday was, needles to say, a rather rough day for me. I woke up quite late, as usual, to the news that Astronaut John Young had died the previous day, January 5th.
John Young was an absolute legend among astronauts, up there as high as Alan Shepard, John Glenn or Neil Armstrong. John Young flew in 1965 as pilot on Gemini 3 alongside Gus Grissom, and was Commander on Gemini 10 in 1966. He flew as Command Module Pilot of Apollo 10, the mission which tested the Lunar Module in Lunar orbit, in 1969. This made Young the first person to orbit the Moon alone. He would then go on to command Apollo 16 in 1972, walking on the Lunar surface.
He would then go on to command in 1981 STS-1, the first flight of the Space Shuttle, an event many would call “the greatest test flight” given the fact that the shuttle had never flown before and much of what would actually happen during launch and on orbit was simply unknown. Of course, that mission was a success, despite damage done during launch to both the orbiter Columbia and the launch complex, and in 1983 would command Columbia again on STS-9, the first shuttle mission with the Spacelab research module.
I make it well known that Gus Grissom is, in the end, my favorite astronaut and a personal hero. Right up there next to him, though, was John Young, a man who flew on 4 different spacecraft, more than any other person. A man who commanded an untested vehicle on its maiden flight. A man among the 12 who walked on the Moon. A man who rode a Titan missile into orbit, twice. He certainly had the career that many of us feel Gus Grissom would have had had the fire not happened – give the way it seems John was about Gus, I feel like he took it among himself to continue with NASA doing what he could to be a part of the program for as long as possible. Indeed, while his last active flight was in 1983, he was still active with NASA until 2004 when he retired, still attending meetings for years afterwards. A 42 year career with NASA. A man who was, in many ways, the ultimate astronaut.
It hurts deeply to think he’s gone. The sad fact is we are going to, over the next few years, lose the rest of the people who gave us that greatest achievement in human history. Not just going to the Moon, but proving to ourselves that we can leave this planet – something we once thought was the only thing in the universe – and explore, see what’s really out there, and wherever it benefits us, use it to make our lives better. At least, that’s how I look at it all.
Another legend gone, but not forgotten. Of course I’m only touching a bit on the story of John Young; I haven’t even mentioned his navy career or other details about this life. I’ll leave the usual assortment of video clips and a wiki link for you to learn more when you feel the urge.
John Watts Young
Sep 24, 1930 – Jan 05, 2018