Gone West

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Two prominent figures in the history of aviation and space exploration passed away in the last year, and the San Diego Air & Space Museum takes great pride in honoring each of them: John Young and Ev Southwick.

John Young

John W. Young, who walked on the moon, commanded the first space shuttle mission and became the first person to fly in space six times, died at his home in Houston on January 5. He was 87.

Young joined NASA in the early years of manned spaceflight and was still flying, at age 53, in the era of space shuttles. He was the only astronaut to fly in the Gemini, Apollo and shuttle programs. He was also chief of NASA’s astronauts office for 13 years and a leading executive at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

When he was honored by the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum upon retiring from NASA in December 2004, after 42 years with the agency, Young played down his accomplishments. “Anybody could have done it,’’ he told The Orlando Sentinel. “You’ve just got to hang in there.”

But Robert Crippen, who flew with Young on the first space shuttle flight, called him an inspiration to the astronauts who followed him, remarking, “If they have a hero, that hero is John Young.”

In addition to his versatility in flying all manner of spacecraft, Young was considered a meticulous engineer in troubleshooting technical problems during the preparation for his missions and other spaceflights, and he remained with NASA when many an astronaut headed for the business world.

As Crippen put it: “It’s rare when an individual comes along that actually personifies his chosen profession, but rare is what John Young is.”

After serving as a Navy test pilot, Young joined NASA in 1962 at the outset of the Gemini program, a bridge between the missions of the original Mercury 7 astronauts and the Apollo program, which sent men to the moon.

Young flew twice in Gemini spaceships, flew on the Apollo mission that preceded Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s landing on the lunar surface and later drove a rover vehicle through the moon’s highlands. He closed out his explorations of space by flying on two shuttle missions.

John Watts Young was born on Sept. 24, 1930, in San Francisco, a son of William Young, a civil engineer, and the former Wanda Howland. His father once recalled that as a boy he would “draw pictures of airplanes and rockets.”

Young, who grew up in Orlando, Fla., went on to Georgia Tech, receiving a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering in 1952. He entered the Navy after graduating and flew fighters before becoming a test pilot.

When President John F. Kennedy proposed landing a man on the moon in a nationally televised address to a joint session of Congress in May 1961, Young was watching on a small black-and-white television set at the Naval Air Test Center in Florida. He was enthralled by the challenge and joined NASA in September 1962 as one of nine pilots selected for the Gemini program.

In March 1965, Young flew in Gemini 3, the first manned mission of that program, with Virgil Grissom (who was known as Gus), who fired rockets to carry out the first manual change of orbit in a spacecraft.

On his third flight, in May 1969, two months before the first moonwalk, Young was the command module pilot of Apollo 10, orbiting the moon while Thomas Stafford and Eugene Cernan orbited below him in the lunar module, tracking proposed landing sites.

While commanding the Apollo 16 mission in April 1972, Young, together with Charles Duke, drove the lunar rover vehicle through the previously unexplored highlands of the moon, scooped up more than 200 pounds of rocks, then returned to the command craft, piloted in orbit by Thomas Mattingly.

Young became chief of NASA’s astronaut office in 1974. He retired from the Navy as a captain in 1976, but continued to fly for NASA as a civilian.

In April 1981, Mr. Young commanded the Columbia space shuttle, with Crippen as the pilot, in the first flight of a reusable winged spacecraft. They orbited the earth 36 times, then touched down on the dry lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base, the first landing of a spacecraft on a runway.

Young’s final flight came in the fall of 1983 when he commanded Columbia in the first launching of the European-built Spacelab laboratory, which was housed in the shuttle’s cargo bay. The six-man crew flew for 10 days, carrying out numerous experiments.

Ev Southwick

The Museum also honored Ev Southwick, a long-time member of the Museum’s Board of Directors. Southwick passed away on December 9, 2017. He was 86.

“Ev’s inner spirit was infectious and he was always smiling! He genuinely loved people and the opportunity help them,” said Jim Kidrick, President & CEO of the San Diego Air & Space Museum. “Everyone at the Museum misses him already, but appreciated the opportunity to know and love him.”

Charles Everett Southwick was born in Fairbanks, Alaska on October 6, 1931, and settled in Seattle, Washington in 1944, where he attended Renton Junior-Senior High School and the University of Washington. He completed the Naval Aviation Cadet Program, receiving his commission and wings on April 13, 1955. He served in fighter squadrons from 1955 to 1964, flying FJ-3 Furies and F-8 Crusaders. From 1964 to 1966, he experienced his first taste of “desk” duty in the Bureau of Naval Personnel. He returned to the cockpit in October 1966, flying the F-4B Phantom and was shot down and captured on May 14, 1967, during a mission against the Than Hoa (of Ham Rong) bridge. He was released on March 4, 1973, after spending 2,122 days as a POW.

Said Southwick: “I am thoroughly convinced of two things: First, I was able to endure nearly six years of communist imprisonment because of the simple fact that I was raised as an American, with all the experience and training inherent to life in this great country. Second, I was released from captivity as a direct result of the overwhelming involvement and support of the American people in our behalf (a fact that made our conditions tolerable from late 1969 on) and as a direct result of the integrity and intestinal fortitude of our President, Richard M. Nixon. I will never be able to adequately repay the American people or our President.”

Southwick retired from the United States Navy as a Captain. He was the recipient of the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star (three times) and the Prisoner of War Medal.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

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