Robert Young '50 February 18, 2020 12:58 PM updated: February 18, 2020 1:01 PM
Born: April 7, 1920
Died: February 8, 2020
Robert Young quit school at the age of 14 to work during the Great Depression. In 1938, he graduated from Sam Houston High School in Houston, Texas, joined the Army, and fought through Africa and Italy during World War II. When he returned home, Young attended TAMU and received his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine in 1950.
Young, who was still in the Army Reserves, was called into duty when the Korean War began. Young was transferred to the radio-biological lab to conduct Tuberculosis testing on monkeys and chimpanzees. Those that tested positive for TB were treated and after 18 months of treatment were cleared of the infection.
In 1957 & 1958, Young’s research team flew 80 monkeys to a Nevada test site. At the sight, a physicist determined the distance from the explosion of the hydrogen bomb. This test represented the distance where it was estimated that 50 percent of the animals
would die in 30 days from the lethal dose of radiation. These tests as well as similar ones conducted by other agencies, were set forth in preparation for a possible attack. The Russians had just granted Cuba access to a nuclear bomb, and had threatened to
attack the US. The results of these tests allowed the U.S. forces to understand who had the best chance for survival and if the military response team would still be able to defend the country.
From 1959 through 1961, Young’s research elevated into the study of animals in space, where two monkeys and two chimpanzees were sent into space. The Russians had already sent a man into space, and the U.S. was determined to not only catch up but to surpass their efforts in what is known in history as the great “space race.”
The monkeys, Sam and Miss Sam, were named in honor of the School of Aerospace Medicine at Brooks Air Force Base, where Young had been conducting research. The two chimpanzees were Enos and Ham, names after Holloman Aerospace Medicine Center in New Mexico. Young was one of 16 Veterinarians assembled at Camp Blanding, Florida and trained in recovery techniques of these animals upon reentry to earth. All recoveries were a success. Ham’s mission made history, as he is noted as the first chimp in space, followed later by Alan Shepard, the first American in Space.
Young was an incredible man and a shining example of why his generation was the greatest. His legacy includes three children (one graduated from TAMU in 1982) and multiple grandchildren, (one in TAMU’s class of 2021).