Born: 1917-09-23. Died: 1979-02-07. Birth Place: Los Angeles, California.
Robert Young grew up in Los Angeles, and as a teenager expressed his aptitude for all things mechanical by tinkering with engines for hot rods. He obtained a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the prestigious California Institute of Technology in 1940. In 1943, he joined the recently-organized Aerojet company, organized by Theodor von Karman to exploit Caltech innovations in rocket technology. Young started in Aerojet's first major production area - JATO units to boost over-laden American aircraft during World War II. Thereafter he was involved in development of liquid propellant rocket engines for a range of missiles and sounding rockets.
After Aerojet received the enormous contract for the engines for the Titan ICBM, Young was named vice president and resident manager of the company's new Sacramento operation. In 1963, von Braun "borrowed" Young for a period to act as a consultant in the development of the engines for the Saturn boosters (the contracts for which had gone to Aerojet's rival, Rocketdyne). He then returned to Aerojet to supervise development of the SPS engine for the Apollo lunar spacecraft. This engine had to be 100% reliable, as it was the only means the astronauts had to return to earth from lunar orbit. Young and Aerojet delivered - the SPS fired flawlessly 73 times in 15 flights.
In 1969 Young was named vice president of engineering and quality assurance and moved to Aerojet's corporate headquarters. Aerojet lost the Space Shuttle Main Engine competition to Rocketdyne, but obtained the OMS orbital maneuvering rocket engine for the Shuttle orbiter. This was derived from the SPS, and proved equally reliable. It was so reliable and reusable, that the original production lot never had to be replaced during the forty year lifetime of the shuttle. Rocketdyne's SSME, by comparison, didn't come close to its reusability requirements, assuring that company indefinite lucrative support work.
Young passed away at the age of 61 while playing a key role in Aerojet's rocket engine, space satellite, and other commercial enterprises. Von Braun had called him "one of the great pioneers in rocket engine development".