John Youngís shuttle secret
The commander of STS-1 reveals a little-known incident with present-day implications
by Jeff Foust - April 14, 2003
Most of the people in attendance at the National Air and Space
Museum last Friday night for a talk by John Young paying $15-20 a
ticket for the privilege were already quite familiar with the
astronautís exploits from Gemini through Apollo to the shuttle
program. Yet Young managed to surprise most if not all of them by
offhandedly discussing an incident with the first shuttle mission
that has connections with the current Columbia accident
About 40 minutes into his talk, after discussing Gemini and Apollo,
Young was recounting his experiences during the STS-1 mission,
notably the well-known missing tiles on the OMS pod. Then Young
revealed something more. "The other day I was eating breakfast and
Chris Kraft was sitting in the dining room and he told me that we
buckled the right main landing gear on STS-1," he said. "Come to
find out they had a gapfiller sticking out and it ducted hot gas
into the wheel well."
That appeared to be the first time almost anybody in the museumís
theater had heard about the incident. The person sitting next to
me, well-versed in the history of shuttle missions, whispered,
"Well, thatís news." Not surprisingly, during the question-and-answer
session that followed, someone asked Young for more details about
Unfortunately, Young didnít have much more information to share.
"Recently in the Columbia accident office, sitting in the meeting
room, he said you had a gapfiller sticking up and it ducted hot gas
into your wheel well," he offered. It wasnít clear whether the "he"
Young referred to was Kraft or someone else. "Thatís as much as I
know about it, Iíve told you everything I know." The audience
laughed. "Donít ask me what ducted in there or what got hot! Iím
sure itís not even on the corrective action reports because the
last time I looked I think they deleted that."
The rest of Youngís talk didnít reveal any other significant
secrets about his career, but was enjoyable nonetheless, as he
recounted events ranging from the first Gemini mission to the
shuttle, as well as his hope that NASA will resume human
exploration of the Moon and beyond. Youngís humor kept the evening
from getting too serious. "I get paid for having a hell of a lot of
fun every day," he quipped at one point.
Young used that mixture of insight and humor to make some subtle
criticism of NASA itself at the beginning of his talk. "Weíre
required to expand human knowledge of the Earth and space. That
is the law, the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958. Thatís
saying that we have to be making progress, real progress, at NASA.
I told some folks the other day that with the kind of progress
weíve been making, since itís the law, weíre lucky weíre not being
put into jail."
"But weíll do better," he concluded. "I can assure you that we
will do better."