John W. Young was born in San Francisco, California, on September 24, 1930. His father was a civil engineer, who in 1933 moved the family to Georgia, and in 1939, to Orlando, Florida. John began building model airplanes at six and never lost his interest in flight. A graduate of Orlando High School, he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering with highest honors from the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in 1952.
Upon leaving Georgia Tech, Young enlisted in the United States Navy, serving on the destroyer USS Laws for a year before entering flight training. After earning his pilot wings, he was assigned to Fighter Squadron 103 for four years, flying Cougars and Crusaders.
John Young graduated from the U.S. Navy Test Pilot School in 1959, and served at the Naval Air Test Center until 1962. His test projects included evaluations of the Crusader and Phantom fighter weapons systems. In 1962, he set world time-to-climb records to 3000 meters and 25,000-meter altitudes in the Phantom.
In September 1962, Young was selected to be an astronaut by the National Air and Space Administration (NASA). He became the first person to fly in space six times during a NASA career spanning three decades, and is the only man to fly on Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle missions.
John Young first entered space as Pilot on Gemini III, on March 23, 1965 (Gus Grissom was Command pilot). This four-hour flight was the first manned Gemini mission and the first time the U.S. sent two men into space. This was a complete end-to-end test of the Gemini spacecraft, during which Grissom accomplished the first manual change of orbit altitude and plane and the first lifting reentry. Young operated the first computer on a manned spacecraft during the flight.
From July 18 to 21, 1966, Young was Command pilot on the Gemini X mission, with Michael Collins as Pilot. They completed a dual rendezvous with two separate Agena target vehicles. Collins also conducted an extravehicular transfer to retrieve a micrometeorite detector from the second Agena.
On his third flight, from May 18 to 26, 1969, Captain Young was Command Module pilot on Apollo 10. Mission Commander Tom Stafford and Lunar Module pilot Eugene Cernan, were also on this mission that orbited the Moon and completed a lunar rendezvous. Apollo 10 was the “dress rehearsal” for Apollo 11, performing every aspect of that mission except the lunar landing. For eight hours, Young was in lunar orbit aboard the Command Module Charlie Brown while the Stafford and Cernan in the Lunar Module Snoopy descended to within 47,000 feet of the lunar surface. During the return trip, the astronauts made star-lunar landmark sightings, star-earth horizon navigation sightings, and live television transmissions. While returning from the Moon, Apollo 10 also achieved the highest speed ever attained by humans, 24,790 miles per hour.
Young’s fourth space flight, Apollo 16, launched on April 16, 1972, was the fifth manned lunar landing mission. He was Mission Commander, Ken Mattingly was Command Module pilot and Charles Duke the Lunar Module pilot. From April 20 to 23, Young and Duke, in the Lunar Module Orion set up scientific equipment and explored the Descartes Highlands. They collected almost 200 pounds of lunar samples and drove over sixteen miles in the lunar rover, a specially designed electric vehicle, during over 20 hours of extravehicular activities while Mattingly orbited overhead in the Command Module Casper. After rendezvousing with Mattingly, all three returned safely to earth on April 27, after eleven days and one hour in space.
In January 1973, John Young was named Chief of the Space Shuttle Branch of the Astronaut Office, providing operational and engineering astronaut support for the design and development of the Space Shuttle. From January 1974 to May 1987, he was Chief of the Astronaut Office, with responsibility for the coordination, scheduling, and control of activities of the astronauts. During his tenure, astronaut flight crews participated in the Apollo-Soyuz joint American-Russian docking mission, the Space Shuttle Orbiter Approach, the Landing Test Program, and 25 Space Shuttle missions. Captain Young retired from the Navy in September 1976, after almost 25 years of active military service.
John Young’s fifth space mission was as Spacecraft Commander of STS-1, the inaugural flight of the first Space Shuttle, Columbia, from April 12 to14, 1981, with Bob Crippen as Pilot. The 54-hour, 36-orbit mission verified Space Shuttle systems performance during launch, on orbit, and reentry. Tests included evaluation of mechanical systems including the payload bay doors, the attitude and maneuvering rocket thrusters, guidance and navigation systems, and Orbiter/crew compatibility.
Columbia was the first manned spaceship to be flown into orbit without benefit of previous unmanned orbital testing. Columbia was also the first winged reentry vehicle to return from space when Captain Young brought her down on the dry lakebed at Edwards Air Force Base, California. With this mission he became the first person to fly four different types of spacecraft.
John Young’s record-setting sixth spaceflight was as Spacecraft Commander of STS-9 Columbia, the first Spacelab mission, on November 28, 1983. The flight successfully completed all 94 of its flight test objectives. For ten days the crew worked twelve-hour shifts around-the-clock, performing more than 70 scientific experiments. STS-9 returned more scientific and technical data than all the previous Apollo and Skylab missions put together. The ten-day flight ended on December 8 with a landing at Edwards.
Captain Young was to command STS-61-J in August of 1986, but the mission was cancelled after the Challenger disaster in January of that year. STS-61-J was the flight planned for deployment of Hubble Space Telescope.
From May 1987 to February 1996, John Young was Special Assistant to the Director of Johnson Space Center for Engineering, Operations, and Safety. In that position, he had direct access to the Center Director and other senior managers in defining and resolving issues affecting the continued safe operation of the Space Shuttle. He also assisted the Center Director in providing advice and counsel on engineering, operational, and safety matters related to the Space Station, Shuttle upgrades, and advanced human Space Exploration Programs, back to the Moon and on to Mars.
In February 1996, Young was assigned as Associate Director (Technical), responsible for technical, operational, and safety oversight of all Agency Programs and activities assigned to the Johnson Space Center. On December 31, 2004, John Young retired from NASA. He continues to advocate the development of the technologies that will allow man to live and work on the Moon and Mars.
Captain Young has logged more than 15,275 hours flying time in planes, jets, helicopters, and rocket jets; more than 9,200 hours in T-38s; and in his six space missions logged more than 835 hours (34.79 days).
John Young’s military honors include the Congressional Space Medal of Honor (presented in 1981, for commanding STS-1), four NASA Distinguished Service Medals, the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal (1992), the NASA Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal (1987), NASA’s Outstanding Achievement Medal (1994), Navy Astronaut Wings (1965), two Navy Distinguished Service Medals, and three Navy Distinguished Flying Crosses.
His civilian awards include the Georgia Tech Distinguished Young Alumni Award (1965), the Distinguished Service Alumni Award (1972), the Exceptional Engineering Achievement Award (1985), the Academy of Distinguished Engineering Alumni (1994), the American Astronautical Society Space Flight Award (1993), the Distinguished Executive Award (1998), and the Rotary National Space Achievement Award (2000). He has been inducted into six Aviation and Astronaut Halls of Fame and is the recipient of more than 80 other major awards, including six honorary doctorate degrees.
John W. Young Quotes
“Anyone who sits on top of the largest hydrogen-oxygen fueled system in the world; knowing they’re going to light the bottom- and doesn’t get a little worried- does not fully understand the situation.” (When asked if he was worried about making the first space shuttle flight.)
“My heart rate wasn’t as high as his (Crippen), because I’m so dang old and it just wouldn’t go any faster.”
“If you want to see an endangered species, get up and look in the mirror.”
“The greatest enemy of progress is the illusion of knowledge.”