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Pioneer Astronaut Speaks at SHSU

by Byron Hays - April 14, 2003

2003 The Huntsville Item
Reproduced by permission of Byron Hays and Frank Krystyniak

Astronaut Young with slide NASA Astronaut John Young, who has stood on the Moon, stood on the stage of Sam Houston State University's Criminal Justice Center Tuesday night and said that humans should continue space exploration with colonies on the Moon and Mars.
American space pioneer John Young was true to his new mission Tuesday evening as he related his concerns about the potential for catastrophic events on planet Earth sometime in the future. The former astronaut spoke to an enthusiastic audience on the Sam Houston State University campus.

Young is a member of that elite team of original astronauts that put America in space and on the moon. He orbited the earth in the early Gemini two-man space capsule in 1965 with Gus Grissom, and went on to add his footprints to those left by other Americans on the moon in the Apollo 16 lunar mission.

He also sat in the cockpit of the first space shuttle when it blasted off from Cape Canaveral on its first orbital mission.

The 71-year-old space pioneer was invited to the SHSU campus as the 2001 fall semester's distinguished lecturer.

He spoke to a full house in the Beto Criminal Justice Center's Killinger Auditorium on Tuesday evening.

Astronaut John Young
Astronaut John Young, in front of an image of himself on the moon in 1972, talks to an audience at the Sam Houston State University Killinger Auditorium Tuesday night.
Richard Nira/Huntsville Item Photo
The unassuming NASA senior related his story with humor and honesty, acknowledging that his "knees were shaking" as the giant rocket on which his tiny spacecraft was perched rumbled into space in 1972.

Young's mission these days is to bring a message of concern about catastrophic events "that could change the Earth and humankind as we know it forever," he said.

"The last 25 years of NASA's Solar System exploration program is telling us what we need to do to preserve our species," Young has written. "This new knowledge is useless unless we act on it.

"NASA is not about just about the "Adventure of Human Space Exploration,'" says Young, who is associate director of the Johnson Space Center south of Houston. "We are in the deadly serious business of saving the species."

The planet itself is very tough, the former NASA astronaut said Tuesday. It has withstood impact hits from very large meteorites; volcanic eruptions that threw enough material into the atmosphere to lower the temperature below freezing worldwide; and intense radiation from solar anomalies.

However, Young said, the animal and plant life that occupies the planet is not so tough. He related that there have been three or four catastrophes in the history of the planet that have resulted in mass extinction of different species.

Young believes mankind needs to organize its technical resources so that our species can either survive such catastrophes; avoid them; or evacuate to another planet if necessary.

The threat as dramatized in movies such as "Armageddon" and "Sudden Impact" are real, Young said, "but the science the movies presented was wrong."

The odds are 1 in 2,000 that that sometime in the next 50 years a kilometer size meteor will hit the earth. That could wipe out one-third of the earth's population, he said.

Young believes NASA knows what has to be done to live and work on the moon and Mars. Such concerns include power, food production, closed loop environments in which everything humans eat, drink and breathe is recycled, and how to get there and back, or beyond.

He sees the challenge now, for himself and others who advocate the continuation of space exploration by humans, in overcoming public apathy and ignorance.

Young was asked:

"How soon can we go to Mars?"

"Ten years after the President decides we're going," he said.

Q: What was his greatest accomplishment?

"When Susie and I got married," he answered. "That was my smartest move."

Q: Were you changed spiritually after your first space flight?

"No. I was crazy when I went up, and I was crazy when I came back."

Q: Would he go back into space?

"I would, but Susie says she would kill me if I did."

Young's sixth and last space flight was as commander of the first Spacelab mission, which lasted for 10 days in November and December of 1983.

He said that mission produced more scientific and technical data than all previous Apollo and Skylab missions combined.

Today, Young attends to his Johnson Space Center duties, travels the world as NASA's most accomplished active astronaut, and warns of the danger of planet altering catastrophic events that have happened before ... and that are almost certain to eventually happen again to Earth and its inhabitants.

Other distinguished lecturers who have participated in the SHSU distinguished lecturer series, since the inception of the program in 1980 include, Polish President Lech Walesa, former President George Bush, historian Arthur Schlesinger, and economist John Kenneth Galbraith.

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