Capt. John W. Young, USN (Ret.)

John Young
John Young

For speakers from the banquet event, see 2000 Agenda.

Profile as published in the March 10, 2000 program book. Author unknown.

The only astronaut to fly in the Gemini, Apollo and Shuttle projects, John Young strands apart among NASA's many heroes. He is the embodiment of the "astronaut's astronaut" — outstanding pilot, gifted engineer and respected leader.

John Young is the only astronaut to have piloted seven launches — six from the Earth and one from the Moon. He has logged 835 hours in space, including 71 hours on the lunar surface.

For 37 years, Capt. Young's steady, professional hand has helped to guide policies at JSC. He has played a significant part in NASA's history since 1962 and has left his mark on the future of human space endeavor.

John Watts Young was born September 24, 1930, in San Francisco. His father was a civil engineer for a concrete company and former Navy commander. The family moved several times in his youth, finally settling in Orlando, Florida, where Young graduated from high school in 1948.

Capt. Young's interest in aviation began as a small child. He maintained an interest in aircraft, designing models and testing them. Located near several air bases, Capt. Young remembers the family's home in Orlando provided ample opportunity to watch the airplanes overhead as he built models of them on the ground.

Capt. Young's academic performance and high exam scores on mathematics and language earned him a Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship. The desire to stay close to home, along with his father's suggestion that it was the best, led Capt. Young to the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1948. He studied aeronautical engineering, graduated second in his major and received his commission as an ensign in the Navy in 1952.

In June 1953, Capt. Young received orders to report to flight school at the Naval Basic Air Training Command at Pensacola Naval air Station, Florida. He received his wings the following June and went on to the Navy advanced Training school at the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station. Capt. Young's first active duty assignment as a naval aviator was in Jacksonville, Florida where he flew TF-9F Cougars and F-8 Crusaders.

In 1959, Capt. Young reported to the Naval Air Test Center at Patuxent River, Maryland for Naval Test Pilot school. Capt. Young set several records during that time flying F-4 Phantoms in "Project High Jump," including the world time-to-climb record of 3,000 meters in 34.523 seconds and 25,000 meters in 230.44 seconds.

John Young heeded NASA's call for a second class of astronauts in April 1962 and sent in his application. After arduous tests, NASA selected Capt. Young and eight other pilots for the second class, known as the "Next Nine."

While waiting for his first mission crew assignment, Capt. Young became a technical expert on environmental control systems and personal and survival equipment. He began training for the Gemini III mission, the first of the Gemini project. Capt. Young's skills as a test pilot would serve him time and gain as he and Commander Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom tested the new spacecraft successfully. In 1966, a year later, Capt. Young commanded the Gemini X flight. He and Michael Collins became the first crew to execute a double rendezvous in space.

During the Apollo 10 mission in 1969, Capt. Young orbited the Moon in the command module as Thomas Stafford and Eugene Cernan conducted the final dress rehearsal for the lunar landing.

The flight would prepare Capt. Young for his own lunar landing three years later during Apollo 16. Capt. Young and Charles Duke spent three days exploring the Descartes highland region while Ken Mattingly orbited. The crew brought back the largest single specimen collected during the Apollo program—an 11-kilogram chunk of Moon rock. While on the lunar surface, Capt. Young heard that the Shuttle's budget went through for the following year. He responded, "The country needs that Shuttle mighty bad. You'll see."

In 1973, Capt. Young took his first management assignment as head of the Space Shuttle Branch in the astronaut office. This experience gave Capt. Young his first in-depth exposure to the space shuttle that would carry him on his last two missions.

Capt. Young became Chief of the Astronaut Office in 1974, responsible for coordinating all of the astronauts' activities, including the developing shuttle program and the Apollo-Soyuz test Project ASTP) in 1975.

In 1976, Capt. Young retired as a Navy Captain, but stayed as head of the astronaut office. Before joining the STS-1 crew, Capt. Young managed the five approach and landing tests of the shuttle Enterprise. Part of his job also involved participating in the astronaut selection process. NASA selected the first new class in 1978 and Capt. Young was instrumental in the process.

Capt. Young continued his duties in selecting, training and advising the astronauts even after rotating to the crew of the first shuttle flight. In his dual role, he participated in the successful definition and testing of crew equipment and shuttle subsystems, in addition to reviewing the basic design criteria, operational characteristics, and capabilities of the spacecraft's systems. Part of Capt. Young's training for STS-1 involved developing flight procedures for the orbiter. He was a major architect of the shuttle's guidance and control landing system.

In April 1981, Capt. Young's test pilot skills served him once again as he commanded the first test flight of the space shuttle. He and Robert Crippen tested Columbia's on-board systems and after 36 orbits, made a picture-perfect landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

As Chief of the Astronaut Office, Capt. John Young managed the astronauts' official activities through the first twenty-five space shuttle flights. He played a key role in the selection of five classes of astronauts during his tenure and participated in the flight crew selection process for each mission. He developed training requirements that continue to be used in the current shuttle program.

Capt. Young maintained his flight status during his time as Chief and flew again on the ninth shuttle flight, still simultaneously training and fulfilling his managerial responsibilities. STS-9 was the flight of the Spacelab module and the first six-person crew.

Capt Young became the Special Assistant to the Director of JSC for Engineering, Operations, and Safety in April 1987. He took on the new job with typical John Young vigor, including overseeing the safe flight of the space shuttle, reviewing new programs with regards to safety, engineering, and operation, and advising the center director on matters related to his job.

In February 1996, JSDC Director George W.S. Abbey promoted Capt. Young to Associate Director (Technical), where he is responsible for the technical, operational, and safety oversight of all NASA programs and activities assigned to Johnson Space Center. Capt. Young remains in the post and maintains his status as NASA's senior astronaut.

His honors are far too numerous to list. Major ones include the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the Air and Space Museum Trophy, the Federation Aeronautique Internationale Yuri Gagarin Gold Medal, the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, and the Navy Distinguished Flying Cross. He is a fellow of the American Astronautical Society, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and the Society of Experimental test Pilots. He is an inductee of the International Space Hall of Fame, the National Aviation hall of Fame, and the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.


For speakers from banquet event, see 1997 Agenda.

Profile by Marianne J. Dyson, published in the March 6, 1997 RNASA Program book

Corona Award for Life Time Achievement

The Corona Award recognizes a distinguished lifetime of achievement in the exploration of space, a lifetime exemplified by the service of Captain John Young. John Young holds the longest active-duty tenure of any United States' spacefarer and probably is the most experienced space pilot in the world.

Young shares the record for most spaceflight missions and is the only human to fly in every US spacecraft since Mercury. He traveled to the Moon twice and became one of only twelve humans to walk its surface. A 'test pilot's test pilot,' Young accomplished many vital firsts in space, highlighted by the inaugural flight of the Space Shuttle.

Respected not only for his keen piloting skills, Young's engineering contributions to the US space program are substantial. His expertise in aerodynamics, flight control and orbital operations advanced critical Apollo and Shuttle designs and aided our achievement of President Kennedy's lunar landing goal.

Perhaps this unparalleled experience is the reason his colleagues listen so attentively to John Young, or maybe they listen because they do not want to miss any of his trademark quips. "My only regret about STS-1 is that I didn't jot down John's one-liners. I would have made a fortune publishing them," says crew mate Robert Crippen. "John Young memos are legendary," Crippen adds. "He would write these detailed memos when we screwed up, and I think I kept them all. If John Young worried about something, you had better look into it."

Because of his dry wit and demeanor, John Young often strikes associates as 'a country boy' when, in fact, he was born in a major metropolitan city, San Francisco, California, and was raised in Orlando, Florida, not exactly a backwater town. Growing up, Young often could be found sketching pictures of airplanes and rockets.

After graduating from Orlando High School, Young studied aeronautical engineering at Georgia Tech, receiving a bachelor of science degree with highest honors. Ironically, during one summer vacation, Young worked on a surveying team in the scrub pines, palmettos and mosquitoes at Cape Canaveral, years before NASA or a human spaceflight program existed.

With graduation, Young joined the US Navy, entered flight training and was assigned to the Naval Air Test Center for three years where he evaluated the Crusader and Phantom fighters. In 1962, he set two world time-to-climb altitude records in an F4 Phantom. Prior to joining NASA, he served as maintenance officer in an all-weather Phantom squadron in Miramar, California, an assignment he described as "the best job in the Navy." Young retired as a captain from the Navy in 1976, after completing nearly 25 years of active military service.

In September 1962, Young was named to the second group of NASA astronauts and became the first of his class to fly in space as pilot aboard the new two-person Gemini spacecraft. During the three-orbit Gemini 3 mission, commander Gus Grissom and pilot Young proved the space worthiness of the Gemini spacecraft, including the first manual orbit altitude and plane changes, the first lifting reentry, and the first on-board computer operation - critical procedures for future lunar landings.

On Gemini 10 in July 1966, commander Young and pilot Michael Collins com pleted rendezvous with two separate Agena target vehicles and, while docked, used the Agena main engine to boost their orbit to a then-record 475 miles, again demonstrating capabilities necessary for human operations in space.

As command module pilot for the Apollo 10 lunar landing dress rehearsal, Young docked the command module Charlie Brown with the lunar lander Snoopy carrying crew mates Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan.

Three years later, in April 1972, John Young left his boot print on the Moon announcing, "Here we are, mysterious and unknown Decartes highland plains: Apollo 16 is going to change your image!" He, his fellow moonwalker Charlie Duke along with command module pilot Ken Mattingly did just that, returning more than 200 pounds of lunar rocks from three exploratory traverses.

During the Apollo 16 mission, Congress passed a new space budget that included funding for a reusable winged aerospace plane — the Space Shuttle. Young headed the Space Shuttle branch of the Astronaut Office that supported orbiter design and development. From 1974 to 1987, Young served as Chief of the Astronaut Office. During his tenure, flight crews participated in the Apollo-Soyuz docking, the Shuttle Orbiter Approach and Landing Tests, and 25 Shuttle missions.

On April 12, 1981, exactly 20 years to the day cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space, the Space Shuttle Columbia rocketed from the Kennedy Space Center, the first piloted vehicle ever tested in space without previous unmanned trials. Commander Young and rookie pilot Robert Crippen verified more than 130 test objectives of the new spaceship. Young manually flew the winged, 98-ton orbiter to a historic runway landing on the Edwards Air Force Base dry lake bed. At wheel-stop, JSC Director Dr. Christopher Kraft told flight controllers in Mission Control that because of the successful flight of STS-1, "We have just become infinitely smarter."

Young commanded his sixth flight, STS-9, launched in November 1983, on the first Spacelab mission. Spacelab, built by the European Space Agency, included the first non-US payload specialist, West Germany's Ulf Merbold. Working for ten days in two shifts around the clock, the STS-9 crew returned more scientific and technical data than all the previous Apollo and Skylab missions combined. Young, however, tended to the flight deck because, as he put it, "Every time I came into Spacelab they wanted to draw my blood." Young landed the 110-ton Columbia with its reusable Spacelab at Edwards Air Force Base on December 8, 1983.

With his sixth mission, Young has logged 835 hours of spaceflight time as well as more than 13,000 hours flying props, jets, helicopters and rocket jets. Still an active duty astronaut, he has put more than 15,000 hours into training.

From May 1987 to February 1996, Young served as Special Assistant to the JSC Director for Engineering, Operations and Safety responsible for defining and resolving safety issues related to the Shuttle, International Space Station and advanced human space exploration. Currently, he is Associate Director (Technical) responsible for technical, operational and safety oversight of all spaceflight programs at Johnson Space Center.

Young has been honored with nearly 100 prestigious aerospace awards, including four honorary doctorate degrees. He is one of only ten astronauts to receive the Congressional Space Medal of Honor awarded by the President. He has received numerous NASA medals for distinguished service and outstanding achievements. He earned his Navy astronaut wings as well as two Navy Distinguished Service Medals and three Distinguished Flying Crosses. Young is the recipient of the American Astronautical Society Space Flight Award and was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1988.

For his three decades of dedicated service to human spaceflight, the RNASA Foundation is pleased to recognize John Young with its Corona Award.

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