Military Wiki
John W. Young
Born September 24, 1930
Died January 5, 2018 (aged 87)
Place of birth San Francisco, California
Place of death Houston, Texas U.S.
Rank Captain, USN (Ret.)

John Watts Young (September 24, 1930 – January 5, 2018) is a retired American astronaut, Naval officer, test pilot and aeronautical engineer, who became the ninth person to walk on the Moon as commander of the Apollo 16 mission in 1972.

Young enjoyed the longest career of any astronaut, becoming the first person to make six space flights, over the course of 42 years of active NASA service,[1] and is the only person to have piloted four different classes of spacecraft: Gemini, the Apollo Command/Service Module, the Apollo Lunar Module, and the Space Shuttle.

In 1965 Young flew on the first manned Gemini mission, and in 1969 was the first person to orbit the moon alone during Apollo 10. He is one of only three persons who twice journeyed to the Moon, and drove the Lunar Roving Vehicle on the Moon's surface. He also commanded two Space Shuttle flights, including its first launch in 1981, and served as Chief of the Astronaut Office from 1974–1987. Young retired from NASA in 2004.


Early years[]

Young was born in San Francisco, California, in 1930. At 18 months old, due to the Great Depression, he moved with his family to Orlando, Florida, where he attended grade and later Orlando High School until graduation in 1948.[2][3] Young earned a Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering with highest honors from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1952; while attending, he became a member of the national military honor society Scabbard and Blade and Sigma Chi fraternity.[4][5]

Navy career[]

After graduating from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1952, Young entered the United States Navy. He served as fire control officer on the destroyer USS Laws until June 1953 and completed a tour in the Sea of Japan during the Korean War. He was sent to flight training and was assigned to Fighter Squadron 103 (VF-103) for four years, flying F-9 Cougars from the USS Coral Sea and F-8 Crusaders from USS Forrestal.

After training at the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in 1959, Young was assigned to the Naval Air Test Center at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland for three years. His test projects included evaluations of the XF8U-3 Crusader III and F-4 Phantom II fighter weapons systems. In 1962, he set world time-to-climb records to 3,000-meter and 25,000-meter altitudes in the Phantom, and was maintenance officer of Fighter Squadron 143 (VF-143).[1] Young retired from the Navy as a Captain in September 1976, after completing 25 years of active military service.

NASA career[]

Gemini flights[]

Young, age 34, as pilot of Gemini 3

Joining NASA in 1962, Young was the first of the Astronaut Group 2 to fly in space. (He replaced Thomas Stafford as pilot of Gemini 3 when Alan Shepard, the original commander, was grounded). Making the first manned flight of the Gemini spacecraft with Gus Grissom in 1965, Young scored another space "first" by smuggling a corned beef sandwich onto the spacecraft—a feat for which he was reprimanded.[6]

Young then trained as backup pilot for Gemini 6A, but after the "sandwich episode", for a time it seemed that NASA was not sure what to do with him. Other Group 2 astronauts with flight experience were quickly moved to Apollo, while other astronauts such as Scott Carpenter and Gordon Cooper were sidelined for lesser infractions. The assignment of Ed White, the Gemini 7 backup commander, to Apollo created an opening for Young as commander of Gemini 10 in 1966. The mission performed the first dual rendezvous with two Agena target vehicles; and his pilot, Michael Collins, performed two spacewalks.

Apollo flights[]

Young in Apollo 10 crew portrait.

In 1966, Young was assigned to an Apollo crew with Thomas Stafford and Eugene Cernan. This crew was assigned as backup to the second manned Apollo mission, planned before the Apollo 1 fire. After the fire, both crews were assigned to the first actual manned mission, Apollo 7 which flew in October 1968.[1] In May 1969, this crew flew to the Moon on Apollo 10. While Stafford and Cernan flew the Lunar Module in lunar orbit for the first time, Young flew the Command Module solo. Apollo 10 set the record for the highest speed attained by any manned vehicle at 24,791 miles per hour (39,897 km/h) during its return to Earth on May 26, 1969.[citation needed]

Young was backup commander of Apollo 13, the troubled mission in which the Moon landing was aborted because of an explosion in the Service Module. He had a central role in rescuing the Apollo 13 crew by participating in the team that developed procedures to stretch the LM consumables and reactivate the Command Module systems prior to re-entry.

Young jumps while saluting the American flag during Apollo 16.

By rotation, Young became commander of Apollo 16, and was an enthusiastic student of geology while preparing for the mission. Apollo 16's lunar landing was almost aborted at the last moment when a malfunction was detected in the SPS engine control system in the service module. On the surface, he took three moonwalks in the Descartes Highlands with Charles Duke on April 21, 22 and 23, 1972 (making Young the ninth person to walk on the surface of the Moon), while Ken Mattingly flew the Command Module in lunar orbit. Young set a speed record with the Lunar Rover. He carried with him the badge and flag of the Sigma Chi fraternity, now on display at Sigma Chi's headquarters in Evanston, Illinois.

Young's final assignment in Apollo was as the backup commander for Cernan on Apollo 17, after Cernan injured his knee playing softball a few months before the flight. Had the injury been more severe, Cernan would have been medically dropped from the flight and Young would have commanded the last two Apollo Moon landings.

A close confidant of Johnson Space Center (JSC) official George Abbey,[citation needed] in January 1973 Young was made Chief of the Space Shuttle Branch of the Astronaut Office. In January 1974, he became Chief of the Astronaut Office after the retirement of Alan Shepard. Young was openly critical of NASA management following the Challenger disaster,[citation needed] and in April 1987 was made Special Assistant to JSC Director Aaron Cohen for Engineering, Operations and Safety.[1] NASA denied that his criticism triggered the move.[citation needed] In February 1996, he was assigned as Associate Director (Technical) JSC.[1]

Space Shuttle flights[]

Young at the 25th anniversary of STS-1 at Kennedy Space Center

Young flew two missions of the Space Shuttle, including commanding the program's 1981 maiden orbital flight, STS-1, and STS-9 in 1983, which carried the first Spacelab module. He was in line to make a record seventh flight on STS-61-J to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope in 1986, but the Challenger disaster earlier that year had delayed NASA's schedule.


Young worked for NASA for 42 years and announced his retirement on December 7, 2004. He retired on December 31, 2004, at the age of 74, but continued to attend the Monday Morning Meeting at the Astronaut Office at JSC for several years.[7]

On April 12, 2006, Young appeared at the 25th anniversary of the STS-1 launch at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, along with pilot Robert Crippen. The two spoke of their experiences during the flight.[8]

In 2012 Young published an autobiography, Forever Young.[9]

Personal life[]

Young married Barbara White and had two children with her, Sandra and John,[4] but they were divorced in 1972 after 16 years.[10] He later married Susy Feldman,[10] and lives in the Houston suburb of El Lago, Texas.


Military and NASA insignia and decorations[]

Awards and honors[]

  • Inducted into six Aviation and Astronaut Halls of Fame[1]
  • General James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award[12] from the Space Foundation (2010)[13]
  • American Astronautical Society Space Flight Award (1993)[1]
  • NASA Ambassador of Exploration (2005)
  • Six honorary doctorate degrees[1]
  • John Young Parkway, a major highway in Orlando and Kissimmee, Florida, is named for him. An elementary school (OCPS) on the parkway also bears his name.
  • The planetarium at the Orlando Science Center was originally named in his honor.[14]
  • Ranked as the No. 3 most-popular space hero in a 2010 Space Foundation survey[15]
  • Recipient of the 1998 Philip J. Klass Award for Lifetime Achievement


  • American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics fellow[16]
  • American Astronautical Society fellow[16]
  • Society of Experimental Test Pilots fellow[16]
  • Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society member
  • Sigma Gamma Tau Aerospace Engineering Honor Society member[1]
  • Georgia Tech ANAK Society member
  • Sigma Chi fraternity member

Media portrayals[]

In the 1995 film, Apollo 13, Young was played by Ben Marley. In the 1998 TV miniseries, From the Earth to the Moon, he was played by John Posey.

Young is one of the astronauts featured in the documentary film and book, In the Shadow of the Moon; the Discovery Channel series, When We Left Earth; and the documentary film, The Wonder of It All.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 "Biographical Data: John W. Young (Captain, USN Ret.)". August 2010. Retrieved May 14, 2013. 
  2. Associated Press (March 24, 1965). "John Young, as Early as 1946, Displayed Interest in Rockets". St. Joseph Gazette. p. 6A. Retrieved May 14, 2013. 
  3. "Biography: Education". Retrieved May 14, 2013. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Wasik, John W. (April 4, 1965). "Virgil Grissom and John Young: Our Trail-Blazing "Twin" Astronauts". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. p. 4.,1212947. Retrieved January 28, 2010. 
  5. Boswell, Blount, ed (1952). Blue Print. 45. Georgia Institute of Technology. p. 108. 
  6. Composite Air-to-ground and Onboard Voice Tape Transcription of the GT-3 Mission. National Astronautics and Space Administration. April 1965. p. 45. Retrieved May 14, 2013. 
  7. Fuglesang, Christer (2007) (in Swedish). Tretton dygn i rymden efter fjorton år på jorden: dagbok från rymden [Thirteen days in space, after fourteen years on earth: a diary from space]. Albert Bonniers Förlag. ISBN 978-91-85555-15-4. OCLC 185242561. 
  8. Ryba, Jeanne (April 7, 2006). "To honor the 25th anniversary...". Retrieved October 6, 2011. 
  9. "Forever Young: A Life of Adventure in Air and Space". University Press of Florida. Retrieved May 9, 2013. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Associated Press (April 11, 1981). "Young: America's old man of space". Nashua Telegraph. p. 23. 
  11. "Biography: 2 Exceptional Service Medals". Retrieved May 14, 2013. 
  12. "The General James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award". National Space Symposium. 2010. Retrieved May 14, 2013. 
  13. Stevens, Janet (January 22, 2010). "Legendary Astronaut John Young to Receive General James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award". National Space Symposium. Retrieved May 14, 2013. 
  14. Schreuder, Cindy (October 28, 1990). "Where Stargazers Can Get The Big Picture". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved May 14, 2013. 
  15. Hively, Carol (October 27, 2010). "Space Foundation Survey Reveals Broad Range of Space Heroes; Early Astronauts Still the Most Inspirational". Space Foundation. Retrieved May 14, 2013. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 "Biography: Organization Memberships". Retrieved May 14, 2013. 

External links[]

Preceded by
Alan B. Shepard, Jr.
Chief of the Astronaut Office
Succeeded by
Daniel C. Brandenstein

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