December 7, 2004
— Space pioneer John Young, a man who flew twice to the Moon, walked on its surface and commanded the first Space Shuttle mission, is retiring.
Young's achievements during his 42-year career at NASA are unmatched. He was the first human to fly in space six times and launch seven times, six times from Earth and once from the Moon. He is the only astronaut to pilot four different types of spacecraft, flying in the Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle programs. Young is the longest serving astronaut in history. His retirement from NASA is effective December 31.
"John's tenacity and dedication are matched only by his humility," said NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe. "He's never sought fame and often goes out of his way to avoid the limelight. However, when you need a job done and you want it done right, John's the person to go to. He's a true American treasure, and his exemplary legacy will inspire generations of new explorers for years to come."
Young, a native of Orlando, Florida, retired U.S. Navy Captain and test pilot, joined NASA in 1962. His first mission was as pilot of the maiden manned flight of the Gemini Program, Gemini 3 in 1965. With Young and Commander Virgil Grissom on board, Gemini 3 was the first American space flight with more than one person.
He next flew in 1966, commanding Gemini 10. Along with Michael Collins, he performed the first dual rendezvous maneuvers during a single mission.
In 1969, two months before man's first landing on the Moon, Young orbited Earth's satellite. Young orbited the Moon in the Apollo Command Module, while his fellow crewmembers, Thomas Stafford and Eugene Cernan, descended to within 50,000 feet of its surface in the Lunar Module. Apollo 10 was a full rehearsal for the first lunar landing.
Young returned to the Moon in 1972 as commander of Apollo 16. He piloted the Lunar Module to a landing on the surface, along with Charlie Duke. Young and Duke drove more than 16 miles across the lunar surface in the Lunar Rover Vehicle, collecting more than 200 pounds of samples. It was the most extensive lunar exploration mission to date.
"You run out of superlatives when you talk about Captain John Young as a test pilot, astronaut and engineer," said former astronaut and Associate Administrator for Space Operations William Readdy.
"John has an incredible engineering mind, and he sets the gold standard when it comes to asking the really tough questions. When he talks, everybody listens. It's impossible to overstate the positive impact John has had on human space flight operations and safety. Beyond that, he has set a standard for excellence for all those who have served with him and those who will follow. He's truly an inspiration," Readdy said.
John Young, as pictured for a NASA poster promoting safety and marking the 20th anniversary of his STS-1 mission in 2001. (NASA)
Young was at the helm of Columbia for the first Space Shuttle mission, STS-1 in 1981, with Robert Crippen as pilot. It was the world's first flight of a reusable, winged spacecraft; the first landing of a spacecraft on a runway; and the largest, heaviest craft to launch and land to date. It was the first time a manned spacecraft was launched without previous unmanned test flights. Young guided the 96-ton Columbia to a perfect touchdown at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after a two-day mission.
Young's final space mission was again in command of Columbia on the ninth Shuttle flight, STS-9 in 1983. It was the first launch of the Spacelab laboratory in the Shuttle's cargo bay. It was the longest Shuttle flight to date, with the first international crew working around the clock for 10 days to conduct more than 70 experiments.
When he was not in flight, Young's contributions to the program continued on the ground. He served as chief of the Astronaut Office for 13 years. He also served eight years as an assistant and associate director of NASA's Johnson Space Center, providing advice and counsel on technical, operational and safety matters.
"John Young has no equal in his service to our country and to humanity's quest for space," said the Director of NASA's Johnson Space Center, Jefferson D. Howell Jr.
"He is the astronaut's astronaut, a hero among heroes who fly in space. His achievements have taken space from an unknown environment to the expanding frontier we explore today. His steady hand and unflinching eyes have served our cause of space exploration well, expanding our horizons with unshakable dedication and calm courage. He will be missed," Howell said.