John Young, who has died aged 87, was the longest-serving Nasa astronaut, making two flights to the Moon and piloting the first test flight of the Space Shuttle; he also advocated making contingency plans for the partial evacuation of the Earth in the event of a threatened asteroid collision.
By the time he was due to command Apollo 16 in April 1972, the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod robot was exploring the Sea of Rains and sending back thousands of pictures as well as soil analyses. Doubts were expressed as to whether the cost of a fifth American moon landing was justified, and the astronauts themselves wanted to counter such misgivings by landing in the rugged Aristarchus area near the lunar south pole.
Nasa chiefs thought this was too risky, and Young and his companions, Ken Mattingly and Charlie Duke, had to be content with aiming at the mountainous Descartes region, which geologists hoped...
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