NASA’s most experienced astronaut, John Young, dies at age 87

John Young
John Young salutes the U.S. flag at the Descartes landing site during the first Apollo 16 extravehicular activity. (NASA)

Former astronaut John Young, whose stellar career in space exploration included walking on the moon and commanding the first space shuttle flight, has passed away Friday at the age of 87.

The trailblazing space explorer died after complications resulting from pneumonia. He is being remembered by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as its most experienced astronaut who spent his career pushing the envelope of human space exploration.

“Today, NASA and the world have lost a pioneer. Astronaut John Young’s storied career spanned three generations of spaceflight,” said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot. ”We will stand on his shoulders as we look toward the next human frontier.”

Young became the first human to fly into space six times, having explored the outer space in each of the Gemini, Apollo, and space shuttle programs. He was also the only astronaut to command four different types of spacecraft.

“Young was at the forefront of human space exploration with his poise, talent, and tenacity,” continued Lightfoot. “He was in every way the ‘astronaut’s astronaut.’”

Young was a member of the first manned Gemini mission in 1965. He was one of only three astronauts to fly to the moon twice. As part of the Apollo 10 crew, Young orbited the moon in May 1969. On his second trip in 1972, Young commanded the Apollo 16 and became the ninth person to walk on the moon.

Throughout his career, Young recorded a total of 34 days, 19 hours and 39 minutes in space, including 20 hours and 14 minutes on the surface of the moon.

Young retired from NASA in 2004, ending a long career spanning 42 years.

“I was just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, and to get the opportunity to do it,” Young humbly remarked after his retirement. “It’s not extraordinary at all, anybody could have done it, I’m sure. You’ve just got to hang in there.”