Biography of Astronaut John Young

John  Young (1930-present) was an American astronaut and engineer who flew into space first in Project Gemini, and then subsequently walked on the Moon twice as part of the Apollo project, before finishing out his space career with the first Space Shuttle flight in 1981. Young is still alive, though he is now retired from NASA.

– Early Life and Military Service –

Young was born in San Francisco, but raised in Orlando, Florida. At university, he studied aeronautical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and then enlisted in the U.S. Navy during the late stages of the Korean War.

In the navy, Young was initially a fire control officer on a destroyer. However, like most of the other early American astronauts, he soon took an interest in naval aviation. After first training as a fighter pilot, Young took training as a test pilot in 1959 and spent several years at the Naval Air Test Center, testing systems for the Crusader and Phantom fighters and setting climbing and altitude records. He held his captain’s commission in the Navy until 1976, long after it was clear he would be spending his career at NASA.

– Project Gemini –

NASA had an interest in capable, daring but not reckless test pilots in its early years, and Young was recruited as an astronaut in 1962. He formed part of Astronaut Group 2, the group of nine astronauts NASA recruited as its second astronaut corps after the seven recruited as part of Project Mercury. Astronaut Group 2 also included many of the other future Apollo astronauts, such as Neil Armstrong.

As part of this project, Young ascended into space for the first time as the pilot of Gemini 3, along with commander Gus Grissom (later tragically killed in the Apollo 1 fire). Genesis 3’s flight on March 23, 1965, lasted about four and a half hours and completed three orbits. To Young, the highlight of the flight was a corned-beef sandwich which he smuggled onto the spacecraft, which the two men ate while in orbit. The flight experienced only some minor technical issues, though as the spacecraft was suddenly yanked during re-entry by the force of its parachutes, Grissom’s head struck the control panel and broke his space suit’s faceplate.

Later, Young returned to space on another mission with the same project, Gemini 10, this time as the commander. (His pilot, Michael Collins, was the astronaut who remained with the command module several years later while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon.) This time Young spent three days in space, practising rendezvous maneuvers with a target vehicle left in orbit by Gemini 8. Collins made two spacewalks during the mission.

– Apollo 16 –

The Gemini project could have been the highlight of any career, but Young received a chance for even greater achievement when NASA moved him into the Apollo program later in the decade. Initially, Young was on the backup crew of Apollo 7, a test flight to Earth orbit, but  he was then moved to the more exciting Apollo 10, the last test flight prior to Armstrong’s and Aldrin’s landing mission. Apollo 10 circled the moon and, while Young piloted the command module alone, practised separating and docking the lunar landing craft. Young’s skill meant he was immediately slated for another Apollo mission, as well as joining the back-up crew for the ill-fated Apollo 13.

– Space Shuttle and Later Life –

Young was placed on the backup crew of Apollo 17, and then became chief of the Astronaut Office, responsible for training and readiness of NASA’s astronaut corps. He subsequently ventured into space twice more, on the first and ninth Space Shuttle missions. These missions meant he was present for the maiden flight of the manned Shuttle program, as well as the first use of the Spacelab laboratory module, sometimes carried in the Space Shuttle’s payload bay.

In 1986, after the tragic loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger, Young publicly criticized NASA administration for what he believed was inadequate handling of the tragedy. Although too prominent an individual to be dismissed for his remarks, he did face consequences: after fifteen years in his post, he was removed from the Astronaut Office and made a special assistant on engineering and safety issues. Despite the apparent punishment, Young continued to work with NASA for an extremely lengthy time period, retiring only in 2004, by which time he was 74 years old.

As of 2010, John Young still lives. He is decorated with the Congressional Space Medal of Honor and the National Space Trophy.