Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Possibly the Rightest Stuff

When I watched the DVD of "In the Shadow of the Moon" recently, I was reminded again of what a cool guy John Young was (and probably still is). If you look up laconic in the dictionary, John Young's picture will be there. A man of few words, but just amazingly brilliant, talented, and focused. His NASA career was incredibly long (1962-2004). He flew two Gemini missions (3 and 10), two Apollo missions (10 and 16), and two shuttle missions (STS-1 and STS-9). Even at the moments of his two Saturn V liftoffs and when he landed on the moon on Apollo 16, his heart rate never went above 90 (test pilots are all supposed to be calm problem solvers, but most of them experienced 120-150 beats per minute at these high stress times).

In the Air & Space Magazine archives, I found this great 2004 article on John Young and his career. I especially liked this anecdote about his second Gemini flight in 1966:
Gemini 10 was an ambitious mission that rehearsed several techniques needed for Apollo: rendezvous, docking, and, for [Mike] Collins, a spacewalk. Young had to be careful not to blast his crewmate with exhaust from Gemini’s maneuvering rockets while Collins was outside; he doesn’t think such a risk would even be allowed today. And another complication arose. “I think the night before the mission, Reg Mitchell [a Gemini engineer] came in and told me, ‘Oh yeah, and by the way, don’t let the sunlight hit the top of Mike’s ejection seat, ’cause the sun is so hot it will probably fire the ejection seat,” Young says. “So then I not only had to fly formation [with the docking target]…and not squirt on Mike, but I had to keep the sun off the ejection seat.”

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