John W. Young, the legendary astronaut has died on January 5, 2018, aged 87. During his 42 years of active NASA service, Young flew in six space missions (with seven launches, counting his lunar liftoff), becoming the first astronaut to achieve that number. He was the only person to have piloted, and been commander of, four different classes of spacecraft: Gemini, the Apollo Command/Service Module, the Apollo Lunar Module, and the Space Shuttle (he was the first astronaut to command the Space Shuttle). He was also the ninth person to walk on the Moon as Commander of the Apollo 16 mission in 1972. Young was actually one of only three people to have flown to the Moon twice, others being Jim Lovell and Eugene Cernan.

John W. Young is seen through the spacecraft window prior to launch of Gemini-Titan 3 mission
 In this photo taken on March 23, 1965 (S65-24719), Astronaut John W. Young is seen through the spacecraft window prior to the launch of the Gemini-Titan 3 mission. Gemini 3 was the first crewed mission in NASA’s Gemini program, the second American manned space program. On March 23, 1965, astronauts Gus Grissom and John W. Young flew three low Earth orbits in their spacecraft, which they nicknamed Molly Brown. This was the ninth manned US spaceflight (including two X-15 flights over the Kármán line – 100 kilometers), and the 17th world human spaceflight including eight Soviet flights. This is a cropped and resized photo. You can see the original photo (S65-24719) on Named after the Hungarian American engineer and physicist Theodore von Kármán (1881-1963), the Kármán line is an attempt to define a boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. The World Air Sports Federation (FAI), an international standard-setting and record-keeping body for aeronautics and astronautics defines the Kármán line as 100 kilometers (62 miles or 330,000 feet) above Earth’s mean sea level.

On Friday, January 5, 2018, John W. Young died at the age of 87 from complications of pneumonia. NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot said in a statement that: “Today, NASA and the world have lost a pioneer. 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.”

Johnson Space Center Director Ellen Ochoa, a former astronaut herself said: “It would be hard to overstate the impact that John Young had on human spaceflight. Beyond his well-known and groundbreaking six missions through three programs, he worked tirelessly for decades to understand and mitigate the risks that NASA astronauts face. He had our backs.”

Dr. Ulf Dietrich Merbold, the first West German citizen and second German native (after Sigmund Jähn) to have flown in space, has said that “In my years as an ESA astronaut, the person I admired most was John Young. His accomplishments make him unique among space fliers. I had the privilege to fly with him on STS-9, 1st flight of ESA Spacelab. It’s very sad that we lost him. Dear friend RIP.”

John W. Young, an “astronauts’ astronaut” who flew to the moon twice

John W. Young was born on 24 September 1930 in San Francisco, California. Upon graduation from Georgia Institute of Technology, he entered the US Navy in 1952. He was a test pilot at the Naval Air Test Center from 1959 to 1962 and set world time-to-climb records to 3,000 and 25,000-meter altitudes in the F4B in 1962. Prior to his assignment to NASA, he was Maintenance Officer of All-Weather-Fighter Squadron 143 at the Naval Air Station, Miramar, California.

Commander Young was selected as an astronaut by NASA in September 1962 (Group 2). He was the first of the Astronaut Group 2 to fly in space. He joined the Gemini project (see notes 1) replacing Thomas P. Stafford as the pilot of Gemini 3 when Alan Shepard, the original command pilot, was grounded due to Ménière’s disease (see notes 2). Young made the first manned flight of the Gemini spacecraft with Gus Grissom in on March 23, 1965.

In 1966, Young was assigned to an Apollo crew as Command Module pilot, with Commander Thomas Stafford and Lunar Module Pilot Eugene Cernan. In May 1969, this crew flew to the Moon on Apollo 10 (see notes 3).

John W. Young then became commander of Apollo 16, which launched on April 16, 1972, the fifth and penultimate Apollo spacecraft to land on the Moon. He studied geology with his crew while preparing for the mission. Apollo 16’s lunar landing was almost aborted when a malfunction was detected in the SPS engine control system in the Service Module.

It was determined that the problem could be worked around, and the mission continued. On the surface, Young took three moonwalks in the Descartes Highlands with Charles Duke on April 21, 22, and 23, 1972, making Young the ninth person to walk on the surface of the Moon, while Ken Mattingly flew the Command Module in lunar orbit. They returned back to Earth on April 27, 1972, at 19:45:05 UTC.

John W. Young, commander of the Apollo 16 lunar landing mission, works at the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV)
 In the image taken on 21 April 1972 (AS16-116-18578), Astronaut John W. Young, commander of the Apollo 16 lunar landing mission, works at the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) just before deployment of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) during the first extravehicular activity (EVA-1) on April 21, 1972. Note the Ultraviolet (UV) Camera/Spectrometer to the right of the Lunar Module (LM) ladder. Also, note the pile of protective/thermal foil under the U.S. flag on the LM which the astronauts pulled away to get to the Modular Equipment Storage Assembly (MESA) bay. While astronauts John W. Young and Charles M. Duke Jr., lunar module pilot; descended in the Apollo 16 lm “Orion” to explore the Descartes highlands landing site on the Moon, astronaut Thomas K. Mattingly II, command module pilot, remained with the Command and Service Modules (CSM) “Casper” in lunar orbit. This is a cropped and resized image. You can see the original image on

After returning from the Moon, Young said: “The moon is a very nice place. When we landed, we were 20 minutes behind. Because time on the Moon was so precious, what I remember most is trying to catch up.”

Young’s career was full of firsts: in April 1981, he commanded Space Shuttle Columbia on its (and the Shuttle program’s) maiden flight, STS-1 (see notes 4). It was the first time a piloted spacecraft was tested in space without previous unpiloted orbital flights. Young and pilot Robert Crippen accomplished over 130 flight test objectives during their almost 55-hour mission.

In late 1983, John W. Young commanded STS-9, the first Spacelab mission. During the 10-day flight, the six crewmembers worked around the clock in 12-hour shifts, involved in more than 70 experiments in a range of scientific disciplines. The mission returned more scientific and technical data than all the Apollo and Skylab missions combined.

In addition to his six spaceflights, Young was a member of five backup crews. He’s logged thousands of hours of training and flight time, including a total of 835 hours in space.

In early 1973, he became chief of the Space Shuttle Branch of the Astronaut Office at Johnson Space Center. The following year, Young, who retired from the Navy as a captain in 1976 after 25 years of military service, was named chief of the Astronaut Office, a post he held until May 1987.

Throughout this time, Young remained an active astronaut, eligible to command space shuttle missions.

Young’s numerous awards and special honors included the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, three NASA Distinguished Service Medals, the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, two Navy Distinguished Service Medals, three Navy Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Georgia Tech Distinguished Young Alumni Award, the Exceptional Engineering Achievement Award, and the American Astronautical Society Space Flight Award.

Those are among more than 80 major honors and awards, including four honorary doctorate degrees, Young has received. He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1988.

Space Shuttle Columbia - Flight Deck
 Astronauts for the first space shuttle mission, Commander John W. Young and Pilot Robert Crippen, take a break from their intensive training schedule to pose for pictures in the flight deck of the shuttle Columbia. The astronauts are wearing their ejection escape suits, which were worn only during the orbital flight test program and during the launch and landing phases of the mission. Image:

Young worked for NASA for 42 years and announced his retirement on December 7, 2004. He retired on December 31, 2004, at the age of 74. At his retirement from NASA in 2004, he said that “I’ve been very lucky, I think.” As to which moment was most memorable, he said simply, “I liked them all.” He logged more than 15,275 hours flying time in props, jets, helicopters, and rocket jets; more than 9,200 hours in T-38s; and 835 hours in spacecraft during six space flights.

Young continued to attend the Monday Morning Meeting at the Astronaut Office at JSC (Johnson Space Center) for several years thereafter.

In 2012, John W. Young published an autobiography, Forever Young.


  1. Started in 1961 and concluded in 1966 and conducted between Mercury and Apollo projects, Project Gemini was NASA’s second human spaceflight program. The Gemini spacecraft carried a two-astronaut crew. Ten Gemini crews flew low Earth orbit (LEO) missions during 1965 and 1966, putting the United States in the lead during the Cold War’s Space Race against the Soviet Union.
  2. Ménière’s disease (MD) is a disorder of the inner ear that is characterized by episodes of feeling like the world is spinning (vertigo), ringing in the ears (tinnitus), hearing loss, and a fullness in the ear.
  3. Apollo 10 was the fourth crewed mission in the United States Apollo space program, and the second (after Apollo 8) to orbit the Moon. It still (as of January 2018) holds the world record (or world/Moon record) for the highest speed attained by any crewed vehicle at 39,897 km/h (24,791 mph) during its return from the Moon on May 26, 1969.
  4. The Space Shuttle was a partially reusable low Earth orbital spacecraft system (A low Earth orbit or LEO is an Earth-centred orbit with an altitude of 2,000 km / 1,200 mi or less – approximately one-third of the radius of Earth) operated by NASA, as part of the Space Shuttle program. Its official program name was Space Transportation System (STS), taken from a 1969 plan for a system of reusable spacecraft of which it was the only item funded for development. The first of four orbital test flights occurred in 1981, leading to operational flights beginning in 1982. Five complete Shuttle systems were built and used on a total of 135 missions from 1981 to 2011. The Shuttle fleet’s total mission time was 1322 days, 19 hours, 21 minutes, and 23 seconds.


M. Özgür Nevres

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