MIT professor of aeronautics, ski safety pioneer

Passing Date: 
Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Laurence R. Young, MIT’s Apollo Program Professor Emeritus of Astronautics and an innovator in skier safety research, died after a long struggle with cancer, on August 4, 2021. He was 85.

Born in Riverdale, New York, Young attended the Bronx High School of Science, graduating in 1952. He graduated Amherst College (1957), the Sorbonne (1958) and MIT (1962), finishing with degrees in applied mathematics and electrical engineering, and a ScD in instrumentation. He then joined the faculty at MIT where he launched research in the medical aspects of space flight, and also created the Harvard-MIT program in health sciences and technology, a PhD program. As a consultant to NASA, he worked on the Apollo project, then trained as a shuttle astronaut and was backup payload specialist on the STS-58 mission. He supervised science experiments on seven shuttle missions, without ever flying. He served on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and was elected to numerous professional academies.

Young was a keen tennis player and blue-water sailor, but his lifelong passion in sports was skiing, which he learned as a teenager. He became a director of the International Society for Skiing Safety, chaired the ski injury statistics subcommittee of the American Society for Testing and Materials, and was elected chairman of ASTM’s F27 committee on skiing safety (1988-94). With NSAA’s Phil Gravink, he wrote the report that led to rapid acceptance of ski brakes at North American ski resorts, and he conducted critical research on environmental influences, such as icing and corrosion, on binding performance. He chaired the F8.14 committee on new projects. He received USSA’s Award of Merit, and the Best Research Paper Award from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. 

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