Today, we snap one last, giant Huck’s Hero salute to a genuine American icon: John Young, who spent 42 years in NASA’s space program, becoming the longest-serving US astronaut in history, died Friday in Houston at 87.
Young was the only astronaut to go into space as part of the Gemini, Apollo and space shuttle programs. In 1965, Young and Gus Grissom flew Gemini 3, the first two-man space flight. In 1969, he piloted the command module of Apollo 10 around the moon in preparation for the first moon landing. Three years later, as commander of Apollo 16, he became one of only 12 men ever to set foot on the moon – and the only one to repair a car up there (when the fender of the moon buggy fell off, he replaced it with a cardboard map and kept on driving.) In 1981, he became commander of the Columbia, the first space shuttle. And he was a hero to other astronauts for his outspoken demands for better safety conditions for astronauts, even when it didn’t make him popular with NASA higher-ups.
But of all the amazing accomplishments on John Young’s resume, one might be the most unusual: he’s the reason astronauts are banned from bringing contraband food along on space missions. That happened in 1965 after he was so repulsed by the freeze-dried food that he smuggled a corned beef sandwich aboard Gemini 3. So he was a hero we could all look up to, and a guy we could all relate to. Godspeed, Commander Young.