It was deeply saddening to learn of the recent passing of John Young.
I never knew John Young, nor any of the Mercury-Gemini-Apollo astronauts, but as a kid in school, it was the flights of these most inspiring men that encouraged me to listen (just enough) to those most uninspiring men who were my teachers. The closest I got to the astronauts was to be at the Cape for the launch of Apollo 17 in December ’72.
I thought at the time that these were ‘very special’ people, and ~50 years later I am more convinced of that than ever. When Napoleon was asked if he preferred brave generals or intelligent generals he replied, “Neither; I prefer lucky generals”. When a journalist suggested to the great golfer Arnold Palmer that he had been lucky, Palmer replied, “Perhaps, but the more I practice, the luckier I get!”
It seems to me that the Apollo astronauts were extraordinarily brave, intelligent, and usually, lucky. Long after the flights, I think it is now clear that they were pushing the envelope much harder than the public knew; perhaps even harder than they themselves knew (or cared to admit). John Young’s subsequent task of flying the first Shuttle Mission was a quite unique challenge. Watching the film of the Orbiter, falling like a stone high in the atmosphere yet landing at Edwards, without a whiff of smoke from tyres, then there is more than than bravery or intelligence on display… there is a hint of magic!
I do not think we will see their like again. They worked in a world almost devoid of computational power and that is a place that can never be revisited. Whatever spaceflights take place in the future, computers will have contributed immeasurably more to every aspect of spacecraft design and operation. Things will never be so raw again. Reports like “1202 Alarm…1201 Alarm,” will probably not be heard again, in any language, in any form.
Godspeed John Young.