Legendary astronaut John Young, who walked on the moon and flew the first space shuttle mission, has died. According to the US space agency NASA, Young died Friday night following complications from pneumonia at the age of 87.
In a statement, NASA tweeted: “We’re saddened by the loss of astronaut John Young, who was 87. Young flew twice to the Moon, walked on its surface & flew the first Space Shuttle mission. He went to space six times in the Gemini, Apollo & Space Shuttle programs.”
Young’s career at NASA stretched for 42 years, during which he became the first human to fly in space six times. In 1965, Young flew on the first manned Gemini mission and commanded another the next year. In 1969, he became the first person to orbit the Moon alone for Apollo 10.
Young, also drove the Lunar Roving Vehicle on the Moon’s surface during Apollo 16, and is one of only three people to have flown to the Moon twice. He also commanded two Space Shuttle flights, including its first launch in 1981, and served as the Chief of the Astronaut Office from 1974–1987. Young retired from NASA in 2004.
NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot paid his tributes to Young and said: “Today, NASA and the world have lost a pioneer. Astronaut John Young’s storied career spanned three generations of spaceflight; we will stand on his shoulders as we look toward the next human frontier.”
“John was one of that group of early space pioneers whose bravery and commitment sparked our nation’s first great achievements in space. But, not content with that, his hands-on contributions continued long after the last of his six spaceflights — a world record at the time of his retirement from the cockpit,” he added.
After hearing President Kennedy’s proposal in 1961 to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth, Young said he knew what he had to do.
“I thought returning safely to Earth sounded like a good idea,” said Young, who stood on the Moon, drove 16 miles in a lunar rover and spent three nights on the lunar surface. He is the only person to go into space as part of the Gemini, Apollo and space shuttle programs and was the first to fly into space six times — or seven times, when counting his liftoff from the Moon during Apollo 16.
Young was born in San Francisco, California. His family moved to Georgia and then Florida, where he lived for most of his childhood along with his younger brother. Young graduated from Orlando High School and then earned a degree in aeronautical engineering from Georgia Tech, where he graduated with highest honors in 1952. Following graduation, he joined the Navy and, after a year’s service aboard a destroyer, was sent to flight training.
He flew fighter planes for four years, then completed test pilot training and served three years at the Navy’s Air Test Center, where he heeded the president’s call to go to the Moon.
Young’s first time in space came in 1965 with the Gemini 3 mission that took him and astronaut Gus Grissom into Earth orbit in the first two-man US space jaunt.
His May 1969 Apollo 10 mission served as a “dress rehearsal” for the historic Apollo 11 mission two months later in which Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon. Young and his crew undertook each aspect of that subsequent mission except for an actual moon landing.
Young’s fifth space mission was as commander of the inaugural flight of NASA’s first space shuttle, Columbia, in 1981. He became the first person to fly six space missions in 1983, when he commanded Columbia on the first Spacelab trek, with the crew performing more than 70 scientific experiments.
With agency inputs