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Why John Young?

"He had the right stuff before we even had a name for it."
Daniel Goldin

"I'm not through looking for life in our solar system."
- John Young, "For All Mankind"
Shortly after I started this site in 1996, a visitor asked why I had chosen John Young over all the other astronauts. That's a valid question; all of the astronauts are heroes. Why should I single out just one?

" space explorer can equal, or is likely to surpass John Young's remarkable - and strangely unsung - series of achievements."
- Michael Dean
Photo of John Young with me
Photo taken October 14, 1999

I chose John Young for several reasons - one is his impressive career. It's been a career of "firsts" and records. While other astronauts may have launched from the Earth as many times or spent more hours on orbit, there is no other astronaut who can quite match the experience Captain Young has acquired through the Gemini, Apollo and STS projects.

"One of the worst dirty words is can't."
John Young, Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, April, 1979

Another reason that I admire Captain Young is his dedication to what he does. I've always admired people who "give it 110%". I think he definitely fits into that category. While all the other early astronauts were leaving NASA, Captain Young has stayed with it, serving in whatever capacity needed.

"I don't think I've ever known anyone else whom I've ever met (who) I felt could do anything he set his mind to do, like John could."
- Art Ross, a high school and college friend
(Atlanta Journal, 4-6-81)

I like his outspokenness when he believes he's right, the no-fear approach to saying what needs to be done and his courage in trying to implement those changes.

Echoing a reporter's question:

"Daring and courage? I hope you don't need any daring and courage because I don't have any of that."
- John Young, Philadephia Daily News, 4-10-81

I admire his modesty - the "I'm just doing my job" attitude. I've yet to come across anyone who has met him who hasn't said, "He's really down-to-earth," or "He's really a nice man." A sampling of descriptions of Capt. Young that I've been given:
  • "the nicest of all", from a current astronaut,
  • "a very special person" from a colleague of 35 years, and
  • "an extraordinary man" from many people, including one of the NASA commissioned artists.

"...John Young is one of the most remarkable men I've ever met...his contempt for fame and the glittering prizes that accompany it is not an ultimately sophisticated act of denial, but the canny insight of a simple man who knows his strength resides in staying ordinary at whatever cost."
- Michael Dean

And, of course, he has a wonderful sense of humor.

"It's kind of hard to tell distances on the Moon. You know why? Because there aren't any telephone poles up there yet."
- John Young

Yet another reason I admire Captain Young is the excitement he still has for the space program and it's possibilities. I've had the opportunity to hear him speak on multiple occasions - and every time I learn something new. Not only have I come away from each speech a little more knowledgeable, I've also come away feeling that I can accomplish anything if I work hard enough. The people at the Mars Society labeled his talk as "entertaining and inspirational"; I can't think of a better description. After almost 40 years in the space program, the excitement and dedication is still very evident.

"His comment after landing the first shuttle mission - 'The dream is alive' - is a testament to the foundation Young continues to build for America's future in space."
- Aviation Week, 4-13-98

One of my favorite stories about Capt. Young illustrates why I consider him to be a hero. According to an article in the British magazine "Spaceflight," one of Young's former professors at Georgia Tech filed a petition to change a D grade that Young had received in an engineering class (applied mechanics) into an A. The professor stated that Young's success in the space program was proof that he understood the subject. Upon learning of the petition to change the grade, Capt. Young wrote to his former professor, asking him not to change the grade, and stating that, "...I can assure you that the D grade was earned fair and square...."

Astronaut John Young learned, on his return from the moon, that a Georgia Tech professor had petitioned the university to erase a D he had given Young some 20 years ago and to replace it with an A, since the astronaut-to-be had had excellent grades otherwise. Young wrote to the professor: "Thank you for the Mech 302 grade-change consideration. Unfortunately, I can assure you that the D grade was earned fair and square. Therefore I would appreciate it if you would let the grade remain a D. It would grieve me considerably to think that Georgia Tech was getting soft or that Tech professors ever made 'errors in judgment' that they would admit to anyone. After all, Georgia Tech is an outstanding--but tough--engineering institute. Yours for keeping it that way. Warm regards, John Young."
Hugh Park, Atlanta Journal

If nothing else, this story is illustrative of John Young's integrity (how many people would refuse to have a D changed to an A on their transcript?!); but, at least to me, it goes beyond that. After hearing the story, most people's reaction is "well, that just proves he's human." Yes, it proves he's human; but, more than that, the story also illustrates a quality of perseverance in Capt. Young, a quality which is critical to success in any endeavor - it shows that one defeat doesn't mean total failure. Many times, both academically and professionally, I've used this story as motivation to "try again."

"[He] shows with great passion what spaceflight is really about (the development of our species as better beings)...Mr Young has given me alot to think about in where I am going and what I can achieve. If you ever get the chance to listen to John Young anywhere..........GO LISTEN."
Adam Bootle

Most of all, I admire John Young because he has vision, not only for the space program, but for the human race as well. Vision took the human race to the Moon, vision will take us to Mars and beyond - and vision is what it will take to ensure the survival of the inhabitants of this planet.

"Only one conclusion can be reached, and it is inescapable for anyone who thinks and cares. Twentieth century man must boldly reach out...and purposefully strive to discover the hidden secrets of our universe."
- John Young speaking before Congress after Apollo 16, 1972

After I got to meet Captain Young, several people asked if he measured up to the hero status I've given him. The meeting may have been brief, but it was long enough for me to be able to answer that question: Captain Young is more my hero now than he was before I met him.

Shortly after the first space shuttle mission, I saw Capt. Young on a talk show; during that interview, he was asked about the media coverage and "fame" that was part of the STS-1 mission. Capt. Young made a comment to the effect that there would be "15 minutes of fame" and then the public would lose interest and he would be forgotten. I wrote a letter to Capt. Young after that television program, telling him that what he (and Crippen) had done would not be forgotten and that I would always consider him a hero. So, almost 20 years later, I've created this web site - partially to back up what I said and partially to educate the world about one of our most outstanding pioneers in space.

John Young and Dr Burson
John Young and Dr. Jerry Burson

"I think we're doing 10 percent of what we're capable of doing... We could do anything we want in this country in a heartbeat."
- John Young

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