Legendary astronaut John Young, who walked on the moon and later commanded the first space shuttle flight, has died, NASA said Saturday. Young was 87.
The space agency said Young died Friday night at home in Houston following complications from pneumonia.
NASA called Young one of its pioneers — the only agency astronaut to go into space as part of the Gemini, Apollo and space shuttle programs, and the first to fly into space six times. He was the ninth man to walk on the moon.
“Astronaut John Young’s storied career spanned three generations of spaceflight,” acting NASA administrator Robert Lightfoot said in an emailed statement. “John was one of that group of early space pioneers whose bravery and commitment sparked our nation’s first great achievements in space.”
Young became the first person to rocket away from Earth six times. Counting his takeoff from the moon in 1972 as commander of Apollo 16, his blastoff tally stood at seven, for decades a world record.
He flew twice during the two-man Gemini missions of the mid-1960s, twice to the moon during NASA’s Apollo program, and twice more aboard the new space shuttle Columbia in the early 1980s.
His NASA career lasted 42 years, longer than any other astronaut’s, and he was revered among his peers for his dogged dedication to keeping crews safe — and his outspokenness in challenging the space agency’s status quo.
Chastened by the 1967 Apollo launch pad fire that killed three astronauts, Young spoke up after the 1986 shuttle Challenger launch accident. His hard scrutiny continued well past shuttle Columbia’s disintegration during re-entry in 2003.
“Whenever and wherever I found a potential safety issue, I always did my utmost to make some noise about it, by memo or whatever means might best bring attention to it,” Young wrote in his 2012 memoir, “Forever Young.”
He said he wrote a “mountain of memos” between the two shuttle accidents to “hit people over the head.” Such practice bordered on heresy at NASA.
Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, who orbited the moon in 1969 as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked its surface, considered Young “the memo-writing champion of the astronaut office.” Young kept working at Johnson Space Center in Houston “long after his compatriots had been put out to pasture or discovered other green fields,” Collins wrote in the foreword of “Forever Young.”
Indeed, Young remained an active astronaut into his early 70s, long after all his peers had left, and held on to his role as NASA’s conscience until his retirement in 2004.