John Young: The Legendary Astronaut

Over the course of NASA’s history, few have had the same impact that astronaut John Young has had. With a career spanning more than four decades, Young participated in three of NASA’s human spaceflight programs; Project Gemini, Project Apollo and the Space Shuttle Program. He became the ninth man to walk on the Moon, played a pivotal role in the rescue of the Apollo 13 crew, and served as commander of the maiden voyage of the Space Shuttle Program.

A product of Astronaut Group 2 in 1962, Young was the first of his group to fly in space when then Command Pilot of Gemini 3, Alan Shepard, was grounded due to an inner ear disorder. As a result, Young and Command Pilot Virgil Grissom would launch aboard this flight, the first manned mission in NASA’s Gemini program.

John Young suiting up for Gemini 3 test exercises. Image Credit: NASA

John Young suiting up for Gemini 3 test exercises. Image Credit: NASA

John Young would make another first by smuggling a corned beef sandwich onto the Gemini spacecraft prior to liftoff. While seemingly harmless, Young would be reprimanded for his actions. Furthermore, new regulations would be created to prevent unsanctioned food from being brought aboard on future missions.

The ‘corned beef sandwich incident’ didn’t seem to harm John Young’s career as he was soon selected as Command Pilot of Gemini 10 in 1965, marking his second spaceflight. More so, Young would have a central role in the Apollo program in the coming years.

Assigned to an Apollo crew with Thomas Stafford and Eugene Cernan in 1966, the trio would fly aboard Apollo 11’s dress-rehearsal mission, Apollo 10, several years later. As Command Module Pilot, Young would alone orbit the Moon in the the Command Module, nicknamed ‘Charlie Brown,’ for the very first time.

As backup Commander of the infamous Apollo 13 mission, Young played a central role in helping the crew stretch the consumables of the Lunar Module — which served as the lifeboat for the astronauts after the service module exploded — and reactivate the Command Module systems prior to re-entry.

In 1972, John Young would act as Commander for Apollo 16. Journeying to the Moon for the second time aboard his fourth spaceflight, Young would achieve a personal first by becoming the ninth person to walk on the lunar surface. He’d also set a lunar land-speed record with the Lunar Rover.

John Young salutes the American flag during Apollo 16. Image Credit: NASA

John Young salutes the American flag during Apollo 16. Image Credit: NASA

John Young’s final role in the Apollo program would be serving as backup Commander for Eugene Cernan on Apollo 17. This would not be the end of Young’s career, but the beginning of a new chapter.

Before retiring from NASA in 2004 after 42 years of service, Young would fly aboard two space shuttle missions – STS-1 and STS-9. As Commander of STS-1 in 1981, the Space Shuttle Program’s maiden flight, Young would set a unique record in becoming the first person to fly four different types of spacecrafts.

Take a look at Space Advocates’ video, the Spirit of Apollo, and consider what raising the NASA budget from less than half a penny up to one full penny on each federal dollar spent can and will do for our economy, for our society and for our future:

Celebrate John Young’s birthday by writing to Congress to let them know you support doubling funding for NASA: