The Astronaut's Astronaut
January 6, 2018 9:48 AM   Subscribe

Almost grounded for sneaking a corned beef sandwich onto Gemini 3, John Watts Young went on to one of the most interesting astronaut careers in the history of NASA, including highlights such as flying on the first manned Gemini mission, walking on the moon with Apollo 16, and commanding the first space shuttle mission on Columbia. He has passed away at the age of 87.
posted by jjray (54 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
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posted by helloknitty at 9:48 AM on January 6


πŸŒ•
posted by octothorpe at 9:50 AM on January 6


Find someone who loves you like John Watts Young loved corned beef sandwiches.

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posted by SansPoint at 9:52 AM on January 6 [13 favorites]


I did not know that story, and it's kind of awesome. Thanks for posting this.

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posted by theora55 at 9:55 AM on January 6


Here's where he bought the sandwich in Cocoa Beach, now it's International Palms Resort.

And now there are five left.

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posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:01 AM on January 6 [4 favorites]


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posted by Splunge at 10:03 AM on January 6


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posted by Rash at 10:06 AM on January 6


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Young's description as 'the Astronaut's Astronaut' was well-deserved. As well as the achievements noted in the OP, he flew on the first mission to test the Lunar Module in orbit around the Moon (Apollo 10) and the first Spacelab mission (STS-9), and is the only person to have flown and been in command of four different spacecraft (Gemini, Apollo CSM, Apollo LM and Shuttle Orbiter) - a record not likely to be broken any time soon.
posted by Major Clanger at 10:06 AM on January 6 [16 favorites]


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posted by Melismata at 10:10 AM on January 6


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posted by Silverstone at 10:18 AM on January 6


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posted by HillbillyInBC at 10:19 AM on January 6


If you knew how horrid space food was back then, you'd understand why a guy would want to pack his own lunch.

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posted by Thorzdad at 10:24 AM on January 6 [5 favorites]


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It is unfair to remember this brave, skillful man for something as trivial as the corned beef sandwich incident when he is also the man who openly discussed the space farts on a hot mike.

Godspeed.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:38 AM on January 6 [20 favorites]


And now there are five left.

Right on schedule, unfortunately.

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posted by TedW at 10:48 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]


What a man. What a life.

Godspeed, sir.
posted by Capt. Renault at 10:49 AM on January 6


Now cracks a noble heart. – Good night, sweet prince, And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

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posted by jim in austin at 10:51 AM on January 6


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posted by vibrotronica at 10:54 AM on January 6


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posted by djseafood at 10:56 AM on January 6


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posted by ZeusHumms at 10:57 AM on January 6


Growing up in Orlando, John Young was one of our hometown heroes. What a life.
posted by drewbage1847 at 11:15 AM on January 6


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posted by limeonaire at 11:15 AM on January 6


(Space food and the direness thereof is just one of the many topics covered in Packing for Mars, which includes a discussion of the smuggling of the sandwich.)

It might be theoretically possible to tie the record for spacecraft soon (Soyuz, ISS, Dragon, New Glenn), but would involve a lot of cash as a private citizen. This record is going to stand for quite a while.

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posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:17 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]


"It was a thought, anywayβ€”not a very good one," Young would later say. The corned beef incident attracted the ire of Congress and led to a hearing on the matter.

Where can I find a transcript of this hearing? Is there a librarian bat-signal that I can activate?
posted by compartment at 11:23 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]


A childhood hero.

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posted by mondo dentro at 11:44 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]


The humans who walked on the Moon were the best of us, in pretty much every way.

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posted by dbiedny at 11:54 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]


πŸŒŽπŸš€πŸŒ›
posted by sexyrobot at 11:58 AM on January 6 [2 favorites]


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posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:25 PM on January 6


β€’
posted by bz at 12:52 PM on January 6


And now there are five left.

Someone posted this song in a Moonwalker obit thread a few years ago, it's always stuck with me.
posted by officer_fred at 1:09 PM on January 6


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posted by evilDoug at 1:12 PM on January 6


One of only three humans to fly to the Moon twice. The only one left is Jim Lovell, and he unfortunately never got to land.

He also had a long career with NASA, one of the longest of any astronaut, as far as I know. I just finished reading Endurance, by Tom Kelly. He's the American who recently spent a year on the ISS and he was interviewed by Young when he was applying to become an astronaut.

I remember waking up early in 1981 to see the first Shuttle flight, the first human space flight I remember seeing. I knew the names Young and Crippen then and I've gone on to pretty much worship John Young.

RIP, sir.

It's sad that there probably won't be any of them left if and when we get back to the Moon or land on Mars.
posted by bondcliff at 2:18 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


> Where can I find a transcript of this hearing? Is there a librarian bat-signal that I can activate?

USGPO doesn't have it online, because those archives only go back to 1985. There are a variety of other sources to search but it looks like your best bet is going to be getting access to ProQuest through your friendly local library. The Library of Congress has a good guide on resources.
posted by ardgedee at 2:30 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


πŸŠπŸ’­
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:45 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


On a previous spaceflight thread here a knowledgeable mefite wrote that the first shuttle mission was probably the riskiest spaceflight the US ever attempted. John Young himself put the odds of its success at only 50%, and only took one other astronaut so that casualties would be limited.

I hope that smart mefite shows up in this thread and renders that story more vividly than I have. Rest well, spaceman.
posted by seasparrow at 2:52 PM on January 6 [5 favorites]


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posted by mikelieman at 2:53 PM on January 6


Growing up, the astronauts were major cultural heroes. I wish that was still the case. I think we were better for it.
posted by KazamaSmokers at 3:19 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


the first shuttle mission was probably the riskiest spaceflight the US ever attempted.

It was the first time a human-rated spacecraft/rocket was launched without a test launch. Unlike later flights, STS-1 had ejection seats installed, but I don't think anyone thought they would survive if they actually ejected.
posted by bondcliff at 4:21 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


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But I would have done ham and cheese.
posted by ivanthenotsoterrible at 4:29 PM on January 6


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posted by JoeXIII007 at 4:59 PM on January 6


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posted by lharmon at 5:05 PM on January 6


On a previous spaceflight thread here a knowledgeable mefite wrote that the first shuttle mission was probably the riskiest spaceflight the US ever attempted. John Young himself put the odds of its success at only 50%, and only took one other astronaut so that casualties would be limited.

In retrospect, the earliest shuttle flights appear to have been super-risky. A 2011 retrospective risk analysis estimates that, at the end of the shuttle program, any given mission had about a 1 in 90 risk of an accident resulting in the loss of crew and vehicle (LOCV). The same analysis suggests that, at the outset of the shuttle program, the actual risk of LOCV was closer to 1 in 10 for every flight.

The 2011 analysis cites a pair of risk analysis studies published in 1981 and 1983. The 1981 analysis estimates risk of LOCV at 1 in 1,000 at the high end and and 1 in 10,000 at the low end. These estimates were "mainly based upon engineering judgment." The apparently more sober-minded 1983 study was a review of the earlier study, but "with more of a data-based approach." It estimated per-flight risk of LOCV at 1 in 35.

I suspect that the 2011 study, which sees a one-in-ten risk, is most accurate.

If you're curious, you can read about all the in-flight anomalies on STS-1 here. Wikipedia also has a summary.

It's kind of impressive how much went wrong on various flights without catastrophic loss. One thing I read about the Challenger disaster was that engineers were momentarily relieved after lift-off that O-ring failure did not destroy the shuttle. In fact, aluminum oxides from the burn-through had temporarily sealed the booster joint. If not for the unusual wind shear buffeting the shuttle after launch, the fortuitous oxide seal likely would have prevented disaster, and the crew of Challenger would have lived.

With the Columbia disaster, one of the things that amazes me is how the vehicle behaved prior to break-up. As the re-entry damage became ever worse, the vehicle adjusted elevon trim to compensate for increasing drag/decreasing lift on the damaged wing. Eventually, the elevons were at their limit, and could not provide any additional compensation. Columbia then fired it reaction control system (RCS) jets. The RCS jets are used to change the vehicle's orientation while in orbit. This delayed orbiter break-up by about five seconds or so.

There's something about this that's so incredible to me. Somewhere, at some point, some engineers were like, "What if this happens?" And they were like, "The vehicle will do everything possible to save the crew."

The space shuttle is an incredible, complicated, amazing, risky, beautiful vehicle.
posted by compartment at 5:13 PM on January 6 [13 favorites]


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godspeed, mister young
posted by entropicamericana at 5:45 PM on January 6


There is a quote on a wall at Johnson (just down the road from where he died) that I suspect Captain Young knew well: "We leave as we came, and God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind."

It's from his former Apollo colleague Eugene Cernan on the occasion of the last landing on the Moon.

I can think of nothing more fitting to say on the death of an old astronaut: that we will return and we will do so with peaceful intentions.
posted by librarylis at 6:45 PM on January 6 [5 favorites]


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I'll get a corned beef sandwich this week in his honor.
posted by MrGuilt at 7:40 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


I remember waking up early in 1981 to see the first Shuttle flight, the first human space flight I remember seeing

My parents put me in front of the TV for Apollo 11 but I was 2; I suspect that my memories of Saturn V launches on the black&white TV were from later missions
posted by thelonius at 7:45 PM on January 6


🌌
posted by _Synesthesia_ at 7:58 PM on January 6


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posted by Anne Neville at 9:51 AM on January 7


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posted by filtergik at 12:45 PM on January 7


Worth noting that he was an Astronaut for 42 years and that the Lunar Rover could be added to the number of space ships he piloted.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:36 PM on January 9


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