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December 11, 2004

A man with "the Right Stuff"

Earlier this week, Astronaut John Young resigned from NASA. I was dismayed with the short shrift that the local newspaper gave to the retirement of this legend in spaceflight -- indeed, there is not even a mention of Mr. Young on the Chronicle's spaceflight section.

But make no mistake about it, John Young is an American hero. Mr. Young served as a NASA astronaut for an incredible 42-year career, which included spending more than 800 hours in space. His unprecedented career began with the first manned flight of the Gemini program in 1965, included two Apollo moon missions, and concluded with two flights on the space shuttle, including its first flight. John Young is the longest serving astronaut of them all.

Mr Young was a US Navy test pilot when he signed up for the second astronaut class in 1962. His first mission was to pilot the first manned voyage of the Gemini program -- Gemini 3 -- which was the first American space flight to have more than one astronaut on board. In 1966, Mr. Young commanded Gemini 10, which performed the first dual rendezvous procedures during a single mission.

Three years later, and two months before Neal Armstrong set foot on the Moon, Mr Young performed the test mission to the Moon in Apollo 10, in which he orbited the Moon in the command module. He subsequently returned to the Moon in 1972 as commander of Apollo 16 in which he piloted the lunar module to its perfect landing and drove a mooncraft 16 miles across the surface of the Moon. Including the liftoff from the Moon's surface, Mr. Young was the the first man to blast into space seven times.

In 1981, Mr. Young piloted the space shuttle?s inaugural flight and guided the Columbia to a perfect runway landing, which was also a first. Two years later, Mr. Young commanded the Columbia in his sixth and final mission. He is also the only astronaut to pilot four different kinds of spacecraft.

And although a NASA lifer, Mr. Young never compromised his aviator principles for his position in the agency. In 1987, he was abruptly removed as NASA's chief astronaut when he accused NASA's chiefs of putting "launch schedule pressure" ahead of safety in the wake of the Challenger accident. His criticism was later vindicated by the report of the Presidential Commission that investigated the Challenger accident.

Just like the late astronaut Gordon Cooper and his fellow Mercury astronauts, John Young has "the Right Stuff." Here's hoping for a long and fulfilling retirement for this local Houston and American hero.

Posted by Tom at December 11, 2004 11:29 AM |

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