Before he soared into space aboard the Gemini and Apollo capsules or walked on the moon or “lit the wick” on STS-1, America’s first space shuttle, astronaut John W. Young, called Cartersville home.
Young, who passed away Friday at age 87, was born in 1930 in San Francisco. Unable to secure steady work at the height of the Great Depression, Young’s parents, William and Wanda Young, moved to Cartersville so he could work at a service station owned by his grandfather, Griffin William “G.W.” Young.
“They lived in an old house on Main Street that had once been used as a school house,” said Young historian Bill Whitten. “They attended the First Presbyterian Church and he played at his grandfather’s drug store, Young’s Pharmacy, the site of Coca-Cola’s first outdoor painted-wall advertisement.”
Whitten said Young attended Cartersville Elementary through the third grade.
The family moved to Orlando in 1939, but Young returned to Atlanta and received a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering with highest honors from Georgia Tech in 1952.
Upon graduation from Georgia Tech, Young entered the United States Navy. After serving on a destroyer in the Korean War, he was sent to flight training and assigned to Fighter Squadron 103.
Young entered test pilot training at the U.S. Navy Test Pilot School in 1959, evaluating the Crusader and Phantom fighter weapons systems. In September 1962, Young was selected to the second class of astronauts. His first flight was aboard Gemini 3, the first manned Gemini mission in 1965 and a year later, commanded Gemini 10.
Young was Command Module Pilot of Apollo 10 in May 1969, orbiting the moon with fellow astronauts Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan tracking proposed lunar landing sites. His fourth space flight, Apollo 16, launched in April 1972, a lunar exploration mission, with Young, Ken Mattingly and Charlie Duke. Young and Duke walked and drove a lunar rover on the surface of the moon. They gathered 200 pounds of rocks on three separate explorations.
Young commanded STS-1, the maiden flight of the Space Shuttle in April 1981, with Bob Crippen as pilot. The 54-hour mission tested the shuttle’s systems performance while tests of the Orbiter Columbia included evaluation of payload bay doors, rocket thrusters, guidance and navigation systems and crew compatibility. One hundred and thirty three of the mission’s flight test objectives were accomplished. The orbiter Columbia was the first manned spaceship tested during ascent, in orbit, and entry without benefit of previous unmanned missions. Young successfully landed Columbia on a dry lakebed at Edwards Air Force Base, California, the first winged reentry vehicle to return from space to a runway landing.
Young’s sixth and final flight was as commander of STS-9, the first Spacelab mission, in November 1983. For 10 days, the six-man crew worked around-the-clock, performing more than 70 experiments in the fields of atmospheric physics, Earth observations, space plasma physics, astronomy and solar physics, materials processing and life sciences. The mission returned more scientific and technical data than all the previous Apollo and Skylab missions put together. The Spacelab was brought back for re-use, so that Columbia weighed over 110 tons as Young landed the spaceship at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
In 1965, Young returned to Cartersville where Mayor Charles Cowan proclaimed it “John Young Day” in Cartersville,
“Our hearts are real warm and happy for one of our own fine young men, John Young,” the mayor said. “Speaking for the people of Cartersville, we want to congratulate John and his family and his loved ones and all those who have made possible the training and development for this fine young man to go out in space.”
Young died Friday following complications from pneumonia, according to a statement from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.