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    John Young - A Short Biography

    by Lindsey McFadyen

As we look back on the achievements of Apollo 16, it is perhaps also timely to take a brief peek at the career of mission commander John Young.

John Watts Young was born on 24th September 1930 in San Francisco but grew up, (perhaps prophetically) in Orlando, Florida, where his family had relocated. In 1952 he graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology where he had gained a BSc with highest honours in Aeronautical Engineering. Joining the US Navy upon graduation and after a year on the destroyer USS Laws, he was sent for flight training and spent the next 6 years flying Cougars and Crusaders. In 1959 he entered test flight training and his duties included evaluations of the Crusader and Phantom weapons systems for the Navy. In 1962 he not only set world time-to-climb records to 3,000 and 25,000 metre altitudes in Project High Jump but was also selected as a member of the second astronaut group.

In 1965, the first of the "New Nine" to be chosen for a mission, he made his first space flight as pilot on board Gemini 3. The first person to operate a computer on a manned spaceflight, (and smuggle a corned beef sandwich into space!) he took to the job like a veteran, never suffering from space sickness and always showing a certain reluctance to return to the confines of Earth. His second Gemini mission in 1966 saw him as commander of Gemini 10, completing a dual rendezvous with two separate Agena target vehicles. He also served as backup pilot for Gemini 6.

He flew his first Apollo mission in 1969 as Command Module pilot on board Apollo 10, during which the dress rehearsal for the first moon landing was successfully staged. As backup commander of the ill fated Apollo 13, he was involved in running night simulations that aided in the prime crew's safe return to earth. This was followed by command of Apollo 16, during which he and Charlie Duke became 9th and 10th men, respectively, to walk on the moon's surface. Having excelled in the geological training that the crew had been given, Young was in his element on the lunar surface.

Driving 16 miles in the Rover and at one point staging an impromptu "grand prix" in the vehicle, the pair collected over 200 lbs of lunar rock for examination back on earth. He also served as backup Command Module pilot for the second missions before the fire on board Apollo 1, the same for Apollo 7 and a backup commander of Apollo 17.

It was while on the lunar surface that he was the eager recipient of the news that NASA was to go ahead with the planned Space Shuttle programme, and in 1981 he became the first commander to take a reusable space vehicle into orbit and return it safely to earth. His second Shuttle flight came in 1983 as command of STS-9, the first Spacelab mission.

The first US astronaut to make 6 journeys into space and still working for NASA, he displays not only a continuing commitment to all aspects of the space programme but an impressive ability to move with the times. Nowadays, as we accept spaceflight as everyday reality, the man that scientist Lee Silver called "the archetypical extraterrestrial" remains a continuing link to those early days of spaceflight.

His enthusiam still burns bright that man will once again travel beyond the confines of Earth orbit, and when that finally happens I hope that he will be involved in it in some way.

Old astronauts never die, they just put the countdown on hold. Long may John Young's countdown remain firmly on hold!

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