- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 2004

When astronaut John W. Young was walking on the moon in 1972 collecting samples from the Descartes Highlands, Congress approved the space shuttle program and, in doing so, ensured Capt. Young again would leave the Earth’s atmosphere.

Nine years later, Capt. Young rocketed back into space as the commander of the first space shuttle mission, becoming the only man to pilot four different spacecraft.

“If the [young astronauts] have a hero, that hero is John Young,” said astronaut Bob Crippen, who was the co-pilot of the first shuttle mission. “No man in the human spaceflight program is more respected. I learned very early in my career that when John Young was worried about something, I needed to be worried about it as well.”

Capt. Young, 74, was feted at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington Tuesday for his retirement after 42 years of service to NASA, where he became the first human to fly in space six times.

“Thank you very much for saving my rear,” Capt. Young told the many space program workers who showed up for the event. “NASA says using four-letter words is better than using three-letter words.”

Capt. Young, a Navy test pilot and Korean War veteran who joined NASA in 1962, was an astronaut for the Gemini, Apollo and space shuttle programs.

“John Young has no equal in his service to our country and to humanity’s quest for space,” said Jefferson D. Howell Jr., director of the Johnson Space Center, where Capt. Young was an associate director for eight years. “He is the astronaut’s astronaut, a hero among heroes who fly in space.”

Capt. Young flew on the first Gemini mission with Air Force Lt. Col. Gus Grissom, creating an uproar when he smuggled a corned beef sandwich on board and casually offered it to an astonished Col. Grissom, who was supposed to be testing space food. He returned to space as commander of Gemini 10.

His third flight was as the command module pilot on Apollo 10, the dress rehearsal for the Apollo 11 moon landing. On that mission, he became the first person to fly solo in orbit around the moon.

Capt. Young flew to the moon for a second time as the commander of the Apollo 16 mission, which explored the lunar highlands, when he learned of NASA’s shuttle future. He was assigned to command the first shuttle mission because, as he wryly put it, he got to see the chief astronaut in the mirror each morning when he shaved.

“He was poised to take the most dramatic, challenging, difficult, dangerous flight to come along in quite a while,” astronaut Kathy Sullivan said. “I saw him from afar as a new kid and didn’t get up close to work with him for some time. He was a fascinating individual to watch and pick up his style and methods.”

Space Shuttle Columbia launched on April 12, 1981, after a series of delays that led program workers to refer to the flight as “Old and Crippled” instead of “Young and Crippen.”

During their 541/2-hour, 36-orbit mission, Navy Capts. Young and Crippen put Columbia through its paces to verify the shuttle’s performance in space. Capt. Young landed Columbia at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., the first time a spacecraft made a precision landing from orbit. It also made Capt. Young the first person to take five spaceflights.

Capt. Young’s sixth and final spaceflight was the ninth space shuttle mission, which was packed with 70 experiments from American and European scientists.

He was supposed to command a seventh spaceflight, a shuttle mission in August 1986 to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope. The Challenger accident put the mission on hold and Capt. Young became one of the more outspoken critics about how safety had degraded at NASA.

Managers removed Capt. Young from the Hubble crew, although he remained on flight status and eligible for assignment to shuttle missions. Insiders believed his punishment for speaking out would be permanent and he would never get a chance to fly in space again.

Capt. Young then became a manager responsible for technical, operational and safety oversight of all NASA programs at the Johnson Space Center.

When it was announced that Mercury astronaut John Glenn would fly on the shuttle for research into aging, NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin replied to a question about why Capt. Young shouldn’t go, too, by saying: “That’s easy. Susy Young [John’s wife] threatened my life if I ever let him get assigned to another spaceflight.”

Capt. Young is a proponent of a long-range goal for space exploration — colonizing the moon or another planet.

“One-planet species don’t survive. You don’t notice any dinosaurs around, do you? That’s because they only lived on one planet and they were all destroyed by an asteroid,” Capt. Young is fond of saying.

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