Laurence Young, professor emeritus of astronautics and recognized expert in bio-astronautics, dies at 85 | MIT News

Laurence R. Young ’57, SM ’59, ScD ’62, Emeritus Professor of Astronautics in the Apollo Program and Professor of Health Sciences and Technology at MIT, passed away peacefully at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts on August 4 after a long illness. He was 85 years old.

A long-time member of the MIT community, Young was widely recognized for his pioneering role in the field of bioastronautics, the study of the impact of the space environment on living organisms, with a particular focus on the human factors of spaceflight. Many processes in the biological systems that make up and govern the human body – from bones and muscles to cardiovascular regulation and sensorimotor control – depend on Earth’s gravity to function properly. To protect astronauts from the potentially negative effects of weightlessness, radiation and psychological stress encountered in space, the development of artificial life support systems for human protection is vital for future missions.

Young joined the faculty of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AeroAstro) at MIT in 1962. There he co-founded the Human-Vehicle Laboratory (now the Human Systems Laboratory) with YT Li to conduct his research. on the visual and vestibular systems, visuo-vestibular interaction, flight simulation, space motion sickness and manual control and display.

“Larry was one of the first engineers to introduce mathematical modeling techniques to aerospace physiology and human factors. He knew that the quantitative approach would lead to new knowledge, so he started with eye movements and then moved on to perception, ”explains Charles Oman, senior research engineer in aeronautics and astronautics at MIT and long-time colleague of Young. . “I still remember that at that time some skeptics said that perceptions were too complicated to model, but he proved them all wrong and in doing so revolutionized the fields of vestibular physiology and flight simulation. His success and enthusiasm for his work was contagious. “

Young was born in New York City on December 19, 1935 to Benjamin and Bess Young. After graduating from the Bronx High School of Science in 1952, Young received a BA from Amherst College in 1957; a certificate in applied mathematics from the Sorbonne, Paris as a French government scholarship holder in 1958; BS and MS in Electrical Engineering and a ScD in Instrumentation from MIT in 1962.

Young’s career has spanned beyond MIT to the national and international stage; he consulted with NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center on Project Apollo and later became a qualified payload specialist for the US Space Shuttle’s Spacelab Biological Laboratory in 1993. Although he never flew a mission space, he served as a backup crew (backup payload specialist) on Spacelab Life Sciences-2 (STS-58) and was principal or co-investigator on seven shuttle missions conducting human orientation experiments.

At various points in his career, Young held visiting professorships at ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology); the cantonal hospital of Zurich; the Conservatory of Arts and Crafts in Paris; the College of France, Paris; the University of Provence, Marseille; and Stanford University. Notably, Young also founded the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, of which he was director from 1997 to 2001.

Closer to home, Young was director of the Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium; launched the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology (HST) doctoral program in bioastronautics; and after retiring in 2013, remained active within AeroAstro, as a senior advisor putting his expertise at the service of the department’s 2020 strategic plan committee. The MIT Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) is HST’s headquarters at MIT.

“Larry was amazing in everything he did – he loved MIT in practice and in concept, always promoting his students above himself and always wondering what would make our school more capable of changing the world. As a founding member of HST and the foundation of IMES, his ideas forever changed the way we teach and bridge the gap between engineering and medicine, ”said Elazer Edelman, Professor Edward J. Poitras in medical engineering and science, director of IMES and cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “His scientific and educational reforms have made the universe more accessible and our world safer and healthier, creating new communities of academics, new fields of study such as biomedical engineering and new leaders His life touched every living person and at the same time touched everyone he met personally on an individual level.

Along with his important research contributions, Young is remembered for the wide dissemination of his knowledge through his impact as a teacher. Young mentored many colleagues when they were students, including (but not limited to) Oman, Edelman, and Professor David Mindell – with whom he would later develop the hugely popular STS.471J / 16.895J / ESD course. 30J (Apollo Engineering). Many of Young’s mentees would themselves become influential members of academia and the aerospace industry; these include NASA astronaut and moonwalker Charlie Duke.

“I literally cannot count the thousands of students and alumni that Larry has touched, myself among them. Recently, Larry led the charge of writing a textbook on bioastronautics, leaving us the encyclopedic knowledge so that the future generations will continue this work, ”says Dava Newman, Apollo professor of astronautics, director of the MIT Media Lab, affiliate of HST and former young mentee. “With all the science we’ve learned and through all of his years of mentoring, the moonshot that Larry leaves us with is to never think about constraints and limits, to always literally aim for the moon, to Mars and beyond – c tis the big dream he inspired in me and all his colleagues. “

Throughout his career, Young has been widely recognized for his contributions, service and leadership in the aerospace industry. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and a full member of the International Academy of Astronautics. He has served on numerous academy committees and chaired NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts External Council. He has been a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the Biomedical Engineering Society, the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering, and the Explorers Club. In 1992, he was one of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Jeffries Prize winners “for his outstanding contributions to space biology and medicine as a principal investigator of the Spacelab Life Sciences 1 mission.” In 1995, NASA recognized his accomplishments with a Space Act Award for his development of an expert system for astronauts. In 1998 he received the prestigious Koetser Foundation prize in Zurich for his contributions to neuroscience. In 2013, he received the Pioneer Award from the National Space Biomedical Research Institute. In 2018, he received the AIAA Florez Award for Flight Simulation and the Aerospace Medical Association Professional Excellence Award for Lifetime Contributions.

Aside from his engineering career, Young was an avid skier, which led him to become active in ski injury research. He was a director of the International Society for Skiing Safety and chaired the Ski Injury Statistics Subcommittee of the American Society for Testing and Materials Committee on Snow Skiing before being elected chairman of the committee in 1987. He received the award from merit from the United States Ski Association and the Best Research Paper Award from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

In addition to countless alumni, colleagues and friends, Young is survived by his beloved wife Vicki Goldberg; his sister Ellen Rosenberg; children Eliot Young SM ’87, SM ’90, ScD ’93; Leslie Young PhD ’94; and Robert Young; his first wife and the mother of his children Jody Williams; and grandchildren Joshua Young, Evan Young, David Young, Alexander Young and Rachel Young.


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