America's most experienced astronaut has passed away at the age of 87. In a statement, acting NASA administrator Robert Lightfoot said that Captain John Young (US Navy, retired) died on January 5 due to complications from pneumonia. Captain Young was the only astronaut to command three different kinds of spacecraft, was the first to fly into space six times, visited the Moon twice, and had a career spanning 42 years – the longest of any US astronaut.
John Watts Young was born on September 24, 1930 in San Francisco, California. After graduating from Georgia Tech with a degree in aeronautical engineering, he entered the US Navy through the ROTC program and served in the Korean War. In 1959, he was assigned to the Naval Air Test Center at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, where he set two world time-to-climb records in a Phantom II fighter, reaching 3,000 m (9,843 ft) from a standing start in 34.5 seconds, followed by an altitude of 25,000 m (82,021 ft) from a standing start in 3 minutes, 47.6 seconds.
In 1962, Young joined NASA as part of the second group of US astronauts. He was Command Pilot on the Gemini 3 mission in 1965, during which he smuggled aboard a corned beef sandwich and ate it in flight. This resulted in being the first astronaut to receive an official reprimand. Despite this, he was 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. Then in 1972, he became the ninth man to walk on the Moon as Commander of the Apollo 16 mission.
In 1974, Young became Chief of the Astronaut Office at NASA and commanded the first Space Shuttle mission, STS-1 in 1981, along with STS-9 in 1983. He was scheduled to fly a third Shuttle mission and his seventh space mission, but the flight was cancelled after the Challenger disaster in 1986. He retired from NASA in 2004 at the age of 74.
"Today, NASA and the world have lost a pioneer," said Lightfoot. "Astronaut John Young's storied career spanned three generations of spaceflight; we will stand on his shoulders as we look toward the next human frontier.
"John was one of that group of early space pioneers whose bravery and commitment sparked our nation's first great achievements in space. But, not content with that, his hands-on contributions continued long after the last of his six spaceflights – a world record at the time of his retirement from the cockpit.
"Between his service in the U.S. Navy, where he retired at the rank of captain, and his later work as a civilian at NASA, John spent his entire life in service to our country. His career included the test pilot's dream of two 'first flights' in a new spacecraft – with Gus Grissom on Gemini 3, and as Commander of STS-1, the first space shuttle mission, which some have called 'the boldest test flight in history.' He flew as Commander on Gemini 10, the first mission to rendezvous with two separate spacecraft the course of a single flight. He orbited the Moon in Apollo 10, and landed there as Commander of the Apollo 16 mission. On STS-9, his final spaceflight, and in an iconic display of test pilot 'cool,' he landed the space shuttle with a fire in the back end.
"I participated in many Space Shuttle Flight Readiness Reviews with John, and will always remember him as the classic 'hell of an engineer' from Georgia Tech, who had an uncanny ability to cut to the heart of a technical issue by posing the perfect question – followed by his iconic phrase, 'Just asking …'
"John Young was at the forefront of human space exploration with his poise, talent, and tenacity. He was in every way the 'astronaut's astronaut.' We will miss him."
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