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Fellow astronauts remember John Young as crewmate, hero and 'great American'

TV still showing Charlie Duke (at right) photographing John Young as Young jumps and salutes the American flag on the moon during the Apollo 16 mission in April 1972. (NASA/Retro Space Images)
January 9, 2018

— Astronauts who flew into space with John Young, and others who followed him into space, paid tribute to their late friend and colleague, who was the ninth person to walk on the moon and led the first space shuttle mission.

Young died on Friday (Jan. 5) following complications from pneumonia. He was 87.

"I am overwhelmed by the news," Charlie Duke, who with Young landed on the moon in 1972, wrote on Facebook on Saturday (Jan. 6). "I've lost a dear friend, my mentor and a dynamic leader."

"What a privilege and honor to have known and flown to the moon with my hero," Duke wrote.

Young was NASA's most experienced astronaut, serving for an unmatched 42 years with the space agency. He flew two Gemini missions, launched twice on Apollo missions to the moon and commanded two space shuttle missions.

Apollo 16 crewmates Charlie Duke and John Young, 1972. (NASA)

He also served as the chief of NASA's astronaut office for 13 years and was a presence at Johnson Space Center in Houston as a champion for safety up until and through his retirement in 2004.

"He is going to be remembered by history for all the things that he did, not only the six flights he made, but also his continued oversight of flying in space and as a proponent for space [exploration]," Bob Crippen, who flew with Young on STS-1, the maiden flight of the space shuttle in 1981, told collectSPACE on Monday (Jan. 8). "Even after his last flight, John was always there, looking over management's shoulders."

"It would be hard to overstate the impact that John Young had on human spaceflight," wrote Ellen Ochoa, director of Johnson Space Center and a former shuttle astronaut, on Twitter. "Beyond his well known and groundbreaking six missions through three programs, he worked tirelessly for decades to understand and mitigate the risks that NASA astronauts face."

"He had our backs," Ochoa said.

STS-1 crewmates John Young and Bob Crippen give a 'thumbs-up' aboard the space shuttle Columbia's flight deck in 1981. (NASA)

More than 30 astronauts from NASA and around the world took to social media to share their memories and tributes. Terry Virts, who spent 200 days on the International Space Station in 2015, was the first to note online that Young had died.

"You were one of my heroes as an astronaut and explorer and your passion for space will be missed," Virts wrote on Saturday morning.

"John Young's unique sense of humor and disarming, Floridian approach to a discussion of complex engineering or operational issues disguised a remarkably insightful, imaginative and innovative mind," wrote Harrison Schmitt, who first worked with Young in support of Apollo 10, prior to following him to the moon on the final lunar landing on Apollo 17. "John Young, an extraordinary pilot, dedicated engineer and space explorer, will be missed as Americans return to the moon and beyond."

"I will never forget the precious moments learning from a legend in the shuttle mission simulator and T-38 aircraft," wrote Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata. "Rest peacefully John."

"A pioneer of the U.S. space program and a dear friend from my days in Houston," wrote astronaut Marc Garneau, the first Canadian in space and Canada's current Minister of Transport.

STS-1 crewmates John Young and Bob Crippen, together with the STS-135 crew as led by Chris Ferguson with Doug Hurley, Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim. (NASA/Houston Chronicle, Smiley Pool)

"I never met him, but for those of us that try to follow his path (fighter pilot, test pilot, astronaut) he was more than a model, he was a legend," wrote Luca Parmitano, an Italian astronaut with the European Space Agency (ESA).

"I remember clearly the day that he called me when I was selected [as an astronaut], and the T-38 flights we shared," wrote Timothy "TJ" Creamer, the first astronaut to serve as a flight director in NASA's mission control.

"I will never forget what it was like to have a personal conversation with a legend who walked on the moon. Rest peacefully John Young... you have left behind an indelible mark equalled only by a few," wrote Chris Ferguson, the commander of the final space shuttle mission, STS-135, in 2011.

Young launched on his final spaceflight in November 1983 as the commander of STS-9. Seated to his right as pilot on board space shuttle Columbia was Brewster Shaw.

"A lot of people have already talked about John and John's legacy," said Shaw in a call with collectSPACE on Monday (Jan. 8). "But I don't think people know John as a man or a human being probably as well and that's what means more to me than the fact John's timing was incredibly fortunate that allowed him to do everything that he was able to do."

STS-9 crewmates Brewster Shaw and John Young, seen together at Shaw's induction into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida in 2006. (collectSPACE)

"John was the kind of guy that every time he walked in the door, you knew what to expect. You knew what you were going to get in regards to what kind of human being you were going to deal with. He was very steady, and he was constant as a human being," Shaw said.

"When we were training together and I would make these huge bonehead mistakes in the simulator, John never got upset. He calmly said, 'Well, what do you think about what just happened? How could we have handled that better? Or what could we have done differently?'" Shaw described. "He would just talk to you through the scenario and the important things to pay attention to."

"John was just such an incredible, intuitive engineer," said Shaw. "He just had a sense of what was going on and what to do about it. So working with him and being trained by him was just an almost indescribable pleasure because he was such a great guy."

"That is what I would like people to know about John," he said, "what kind of human being he was. Not that he was a great American hero, but that he was a great American."

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Astronauts' remembrances of John Young

Tributes to the late moonwalker shared on social media

Just learned of the passing of astronaut John Young. So honored to have been able to learn from his experience. A true American hero.

— Clayton Anderson

Saddened for the loss of former astronaut colleague John Young — the astronauts' astronaut, a true legend. Fair winds and following seas, Captain.

— Scott Kelly

Godspeed, John Young.

— Michael Foreman

I'll never forget the day that John Young spoke to my ASCAN class. Such a humble man and a true American hero. RIP, Captain Young.

— Wendy Lawrence

John Young — My hero.

— Rick Mastracchio

We've lost an American hero. John Young flew on Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle. Many firsts in human space flight — and a great man.

— Tim Kopra

Rarely does a childhood hero become a friend and mentor. Our nation and world lost a great champion: John Young, the finest astronaut I've ever met! Thank you for your lifelong courageous service.

— Ron Garan

John Young was the ultimate humble hero, and the Astronauts' Astronaut. I feel so fortunate to have known him as a friend and benefited from his vast wisdom.

— Scott Parazynski

Too often with a heavy heart we watch the passage of time. We will miss you John and thank you for your service and dedication to our future.

— Drew Feustel

The ultimate astronaut, my boyhood hero and colleague John Young has passed. I am grateful for the many memories of have of him, Godspeed my friend.

— Mike Massimino

Sorry to hear of the loss of legendary astronaut and personal hero, John Young. Godspeed, John!

— Mike Fossum

Arguably the best astronaut ever. Not because he flew most, but because he was so awesome, insightful, and contributed so much. I saved every white paper he wrote as a champion for crew safety and doing things right in human spaceflight. Brave beyond words.

— Kevin Ford

Saddened by this world's loss of John Young. A true hero, leader, and friend, and the greatest champion of exploration, flight safety, and common sense our space program has ever known.

— Nicole Stott

Thank you Capt Young for your incredible contributions to getting Humans into Space. Missed our chats in El Lago while walking the boys. Godspeed and Rest In Peace.

— Leland Melvin

We lost a legend folks-John Young left his mark on space exploration, and humanity as a whole. He's a role model for us all.

— Jack Fischer

Today we lost a great explorer! I always enjoyed learning from him! Astronaut John Young was an astronaut's hero!

— Jose Hernandez

I'm saddened to hear of the loss of my friend, John Young. John will forever be remembered as a true American hero, an explorer who inspired the nation with his courage and commitment to discovery. As the commander of the first flight of the space shuttle, John Young, along with his pilot Robert Crippen, boldly launched into space on the previously untested spacecraft. Something that had never been done before and hasn't been done since.

His bravery broadened our horizons, his decades of dedication transformed our space program, and his legacy as one of America's first space pioneers will forever inspire future generations of explorers, as he inspired me. Gabby and I are thinking of his family during this difficult time. Godspeed, John Young.

— Mark Kelly

John Young was a great explorer and a role model to many. What a loss.

— Jenni Sidey

So deeply saddened by the loss of the legendary spaceman Captain John Young. Flooded with endless memories of his profound words of wisdom, which usually ended with... "but, what do I know, I'm just an old country boy."

You are Forever Young in these hallowed halls of NASA.

— Doug Wheelock

John Young was one of the 1st astronauts I met when I interviewed in 1989. A gentleman's gentleman, an astronaut's astronaut. Ad Astra.

— Leroy Chiao

Without a doubt - my astronaut hero. John commanded a Gemini, Apollo and the first Shuttle mission - incredible. My favorites memory: we met someone at KSC who asked: "Capt Young, did you walk on the moon?" "Nope!" he snapped back "I WORKED on the moon!" RIP John Young.

— Dan Tani

Gunpowder, that's what John Young told me the Moon smelled like. A true icon to everyone who ever dreamed of flying in space. Godspeed John Young, Godspeed!

— Randy Bresnik

John Young was the astronaut corps' strongest advocate for flight safety, common sense and doing the right thing. And he wore his bravery with a wry sense of humour. We'll never see another one like him.

— Robert Thirsk

In my years as an ESA astronaut, the person I admired most was John Young. His accomplishments make him unique among space fliers. I had the privilege to fly with him on STS-9, 1st flight of ESA Spacelab. It's very sad that we lost him. Dear friend, rest in peace.

— Ulf Merbold