Captain John W. Young, Astronaut, Moon Walker, Test Pilot, Aerospace Engineer, AIAA Member Dies

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Recognized During Plenary Session at 2018 AIAA SciTech

January 9, 2018 – Kissimmee, Florida – During a plenary session at AIAA SciTech Forum here, the Institute today remembered member Captain John Young, U.S. Navy (ret.), who died last week at 87, with a moment of silence.

Young was born in San Francisco in 1930. It’s no surprise that he built model airplanes as a child. In 1952 he graduated, with highest honors, from the Georgia Institute of Technology with a degree in aeronautical engineering, before joining the U.S. Navy. After serving on the USS Laws in the Korean War, he was sent to flight training and flew Cougars and Crusaders for four years as part of Fighter Squadron 103. After completing training at the U.S. Navy Test Pilot School in 1959, he was a test pilot at the Naval Air Test Center.

Inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s challenge in 1961 to land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth, John Young quickly answered the call. In 1962 he was selected from among hundreds of young pilots to join NASA's second astronaut class, known as the “New Nine.”

“Captain Young was an American hero—a true astronaut’s astronaut who had an incredible career and lived a life full of ‘firsts’ and ‘onlys,’” said Col. Pamela A. Melroy, USAF (ret.), a former astronaut and general chair of the 2018 AIAA SciTech Forum. “To say that Young flourished at NASA is an understatement. He was the only astronaut to command three different kinds of spacecraft; Gemini, Apollo, and the Shuttle; was the first to fly into space six times; visited the moon twice; and had a career spanning 42 years—the longest of any U.S. astronaut. His accomplishments are the stuff of lore.”

In March 1965, Young made his first flight as an astronaut, joining Gus Grissom on Gemini 3, the first manned flight of that program. He was then tapped to command the Gemini 10 mission in 1966.

In 1969, Young was assigned as Command Module Pilot on the Apollo 10 mission that orbited the moon to field test the Lunar Excursion Module in anticipation of the Apollo 11 mission.

He became the ninth man to walk on the moon as Commander of the Apollo 16 mission in 1972. He not only walked on the moon, he drove 16 miles in a lunar rover and spent three nights on the lunar surface. In 1974, Young became Chief of the Astronaut Office at NASA.

Among his many firsts, none were more notable than when in April 1981, he commanded Space Shuttle Columbia on the Shuttle program's maiden flight STS-1. It was the first time a piloted spacecraft was tested in space without previous unpiloted orbital flights. Young and pilot Robert Crippen accomplished more than 130 flight test objectives during their almost 55-hour mission. In 1983, Young also commanded STS-9.

Young worked at NASA in various capacities until his retirement on 31 December 2004. Even after that, he was a tireless advocate for the development of the technologies that will allow us to live and work on the moon and Mars.

John Young will be sorely missed. He was an inspiration to his colleagues in the Astronaut Corps, to NASA, and to the world. John Young was at the forefront of human space exploration with his poise, talent, and tenacity,” said Melroy. “All of us who worked with John were better for it. Ad astra, John.”

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