The Passing of a Pioneer
Everyone has someone they look up to and for many, John Young was that person; an inspirational figure, a hero and a pioneer. From his recent passing, I would like to take time to reflect on his accomplishments and why I believe that he is an important individual both for his accomplishments and what he has left behind.
Although not as well-known as Neil Armstrong for those outside of the space industry, throughout the 42 years he spent working for NASA, John was a pioneer who had participated in many of the first manned missions to space, as well as being the first person to fly to space six times, a record that was later accomplished only by a handful of other astronauts. He was also one of three astronauts to have flown to the moon twice, first on the Gemini where he orbited the moon and second with the Apollo 16, where he landed on the moon’s surface with astronaut Charlie Duke and drove around on a rover to collect samples.
When he was no longer participating in space flights, John played an active support role within NASA. Amongst many of his responsibilities, he became Chief of the Space Shuttle Branch of the Astronaut Office, tasked with supporting the development of the space shuttle. Later on, he was put in charge of looking after the activities of astronauts as the Chief of the Astronaut Office. His last position was when he was assigned as Associate Director at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in 1966.
Throughout his long career with NASA, John was known to be vocal when it concerns the safety of others. During the 1986 Challenger Shuttle launch accident, where all seven crew members were killed when the spacecraft collapsed due to a technical error, John was a harsh critic of the agency. John mentioned in his memoir (Forever Young) that “whenever and wherever I found a potential safety issue, I always did my utmost to make some noise about it, by memo or whatever means might best bring attention to it.”
John became very concerned with safety due to a personal experience. When he was still active in space flights, John had lost three coworkers and friends in fire accident during a countdown practice of the Apollo 1 mission. Virgil (Gus) Grissom, Roger Chaffe and Edward White II all passed away. John noted that it was due to the accident that safety measures were put in place, helping him and other astronauts on later Apollo missions to travel to space and make it safely back to Earth.
After his career at NASA, John consistently worked for his passion. He continued to advocate for space technology projects that would one day help us to live on the moon and Mars. It was with hope that through these technological developments, we will develop a way to save our species, by being able to travel to and colonize other habitable planets.
Thanks to people like John who tirelessly went through training, doing researches and risking their lives in space missions, we get to benefit from the advancements derived from space technology in our daily lives. Their accomplishments also give the potential for humans to survive as a species in the distant future.
With his parting, John has left us all a gift, to young aspiring astronauts and to those of us who look up to the stars; the gift of inspiration and another step forward for humanity. He has taught us that we can achieve our dreams through hard work and determination. In John’s own words, “Anybody could have done it. You’ve just got to hang in there.”