NASA has just announced that John Young, Naval Aviator, and astronaut, has passed away at the age of 87. His career spanned much of the early space program as he flew two Gemini missions, two Apollo missions, including one to the lunar surface, and commanded two initial flights of the Space Shuttle. He was the first astronaut to fly six times in space on three different kinds of spacecraft.

The Gemini program

Young’s first spaceflight was on Gemini 3 with Mercury astronaut Gus Grissom.

The mission flew on March 23, 1965, and included a number of space firsts, including the first manual change of orbit and the first lifting reentry. Young was also the first person to operate a computer in space.

Young commanded the mission of Gemini 10 with Michael Collins between July 18 and July 21, 1966. Gemini 10 performed a rendezvous with two separate Agena target vehicles. Collins also completed a spacewalk to retrieve a micrometeorite detector from the second Agena while Young flew in close formation with the spacecraft.

The Apollo program

Young’s next space flight was aboard Apollo 10 as command module pilot with Gene Cernan and Thomas Stafford in May 1969. Apollo 10 flew in orbit around the moon and practiced every aspect of a mission to the lunar surface except for the actual landing.

Cernan and Stafford flew the lunar module, and the astronauts photographed potential landing sites.

In April 1972, Young commanded the mission of Apollo 16 and landed on the moon at the Descartes Highlands. While Ken Mattingly flew in orbit in the command module, Young and Charlie Duke set up experiments, collected rock and soil samples, and drove 16 miles, in total, on the lunar rover.

The shuttle program

Young commanded the first mission of the space shuttle Columbia in April of 1981 along with Bob Crippen. The flight tested all of the systems of the shuttle from launch, to orbital operations, to the first horizontal landing of a winged spacecraft on the dry lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base.

Young’s final space mission was STS-9, the first Spacelab mission, in November and December of 1983.

The crew of six performed numerous experiments in a vast number of scientific disciplines. The Spacelab module was brought back to Earth for reuse.

Young’s legacy.

John Young worked for NASA for 42 years, only retiring in 2004 at the age of 74, though he continued to attend Monday meetings of the astronaut office for several years afterward. He might have commanded a third space shuttle mission, which would have deployed the Hubble Space Telescope, but that flight was delayed because of the Challenger accident. Young was forthright in his criticism of NASA management in the wake of the disaster that took the lives of seven astronauts.

In a different history, some often half-joked, had an envisioned mission to Mars had taken place in the 1980s, John Young would have been in line to command that mission as well. Now, he has gone on his final flight, and yet another Apollo moonwalker has moved on.