Press Release

John F. Yardley, Human Space Flight Pioneer, Dies

By SpaceRef Editor
June 27, 2001
Filed under ,

John F. Yardley, a leading figure in the early days of
human space flight and the Space Shuttle program, died early
Tuesday. He was 76.

“John Yardley was as responsible as any individual for
getting the Space Shuttle program off the ground. He made
STS-1 happen,” said NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin. “His
experience and leadership through NASA’s early human space
flight efforts paved the way for his great contributions to
the Space Shuttle program. Two decades later, John’s legacy
lives on with each successful Space Shuttle mission.”

After three years in the Navy during World War II, Yardley
began his aerospace career at McDonnell Douglas in 1946.
While at McDonnell Douglas, he worked on cutting-edge human
space flight projects, leading the design team for the
Mercury spacecraft, and serving as Launch Operations Manager
for the Mercury and Gemini spacecraft and later as the
technical director for the Gemini Program.

“In those days, we were constantly making choices, and
people’s lives and the programs depended on them,” said Dr.
Christopher C. Kraft Jr., who served as a NASA Flight
Director on the Mercury and Gemini Programs and later went on
to serve as Director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “Yardley
was always willing to come up with the next idea to overcome
whatever problem we were having. You knew you would get not
just the right answer from him, but the best answer. He was
one of two outstanding program managers in the early days of
human space flight and one of my greatest associates.”

NASA awarded Yardley its Public Service Medal for his
outstanding contributions to the Mercury and Gemini Programs
in 1963 and 1966.

Yardley served as vice president and general manager of
McDonnell Douglas Astronautics’ Eastern Division before
joining NASA in 1974.

At NASA, Yardley served as Associate Administrator for Manned
Space Flight (later renamed Space Transportation Systems)
where he led the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project and Spacelab, and
was responsible for development and acquisition of the Space
Shuttle, launching a new era in human space flight.

“We have lost one of the true giants of this nation’s space
program,” said NASA Astronaut John Young, associate director
(technical) of the Johnson Space Center, Houston, and
commander of the first Space Shuttle flight. “A leader in the
design and development of the early Mercury and Gemini
spacecraft as well as today’s Space Shuttle system, John
Yardley made significant contributions to the program every
step of the way. His vision, talent and dedication helped
ensure that our spacecraft would be safe and that our
missions would be successful.”

Yardley returned to private industry in 1981 following the
first successful Space Shuttle mission to serve as president
of the former McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Co. In 1989, he
retired in St. Louis.

Yardley’s wife, Phyllis, four daughters, one son, one sister,
nine grandchildren and a great-granddaughter survive him.

SpaceRef staff editor.