RIP John Young – Hope you smuggled a corned beef with you!

When I heard the news, I wondered how many of my students had heard of John Young?    I’ve never met him, but all reports say that as an astronaut, he was a consummate professional who always did his job really well while never really seeking out any sort of hero status.    But, he was one and make no mistake.   There were few – if any – astronauts that have his record.

Not one of the immortalized “Right Stuff” ‘Mercury 7’, John was part of the second class of astronauts that were hired as NASA was ramping up the Moon race.   He was the first of his class to fly on Gemini 3 with Gus Grissom.   (Gemini 1 & 2 were un-crewed)    He also did some of the very first rendezvous and docking tests in space on Gemini 10.    While Stafford and Cernan flew the Lunar Module in lunar orbit for the first time on Apollo 10, Young flew the Command Module solo.   One of only three humans to do so, he then went back to the moon a second time – this time to the surface for Apollo 16.    That alone is enough, but then he became the first Chief of the Space Shuttle branch and – because he was so respected by the other astronauts – the Chief Astronaut liaison after Shepard retired.    He then piloted the first ever Space Shuttle flight STS-1 and the first flight of Spacelab on the Shuttle – STS-9.

However, perhaps his most remembered moment was on Gemini 3.   Imagine that you are going on your first ever spaceflight – at the height of the space era when TV cameras (and really large crowds) were at every launch and every moment in space was followed and discussed on the news….    Remember, this was the first manned Gemini flight set to last a record breaking 4 hours in space!   Before going to the Moon, one of the things that we needed to learn was how to eat in space.    So, in typical government fashion, millions of dollars (literally) were spent to develop ‘space rated food,’ but Young thought it might be a good idea to have a back up plan and smuggled a corned beef sandwich onboard!   (to give to Grissom so the story goes)    Congress actually had a special inquiry to grill then NASA head Mueller about it – resulting in the immortal congressional line: “We have taken steps…to prevent recurrence of corned beef sandwiches in future flights.”    (seriously…)

Here’s the transcript from Orbit 2

You can read about it in more detail (and written much better) on AVClub here

He was always my favorite.

It’s a bit sad with each loss.    There are only five humans left that have ever been to another world.   The remaining men who have walked on the moon are Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, David Scott, Charles Duke, and Harrison Schmitt – all of whom are now over 80.