John Young—one of the most celebrated astronauts in the history of American spaceflight—has died today, at the age of 87. Young was my favorite of the Apollo astronauts (Sorry, Jim Lovell). Hail Columbia! follows the run-up to the first Space Shuttle flight in 1981.
Young flew in space six times, and would have made more flights if he hadn’t had some choice words with management in the aftermath of the Challenger accident. He was originally slated to be the commander of the Space Shuttle flight immediately after Challenger, which would have deployed the Hubble Space Telescope. But that flight was delayed until they could get the Shuttle back up and running. By that time, Young was in the penalty box.
It would be hard to overestimate Young’s influence on the NASA program; as the organization’s longest-serving active astronaut, he flew on the Gemini missions, piloted the Space Shuttle, and is one of only three people who’ve ever been to the moon on two separate occasions.