Legendary astronaut, moonwalker John Young dies at 87

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HOUSTON (AP) -- 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," NASA administrator Robert Lightfoot said. "John was one of that group of early space pioneers whose bravery and commitment sparked our nation's first great achievements in space."

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 in 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.

Young was in NASA's second astronaut class, chosen in 1962, along with the likes of Neil Armstrong, Pete Conrad and James Lovell.

Young was the first of his group to fly in space: He and Mercury astronaut Gus Grissom made the first manned Gemini mission in 1965. Unknown to NASA, Young smuggled a corned beef sandwich on board, given to him by Mercury astronaut Wally Schirra. When it came time to test NASA's official space food, Young handed Grissom the sandwich as a joke.

Two years later, with Gemini over and Apollo looming, Young asked Grissom why he didn't say something about the bad wiring in the new Apollo 1 spacecraft. Grissom feared doing so would get him fired, Young said. A few weeks later, on Jan. 27, 1967, those wires contributed to the fire that killed Grissom, Edward White II and Roger Chaffee in a countdown practice on their Cape Canaveral launch pad.

It was the safety measures put in place after the fire that got 12 men, Young included, safely to the surface of the moon and back.

Young orbited the moon on Apollo 10 in May 1969 in preparation for the Apollo 11 moon landing that was to follow in a couple of months. He commanded Apollo 16 three years later, the next-to-last manned lunar voyage, and walked on the moon.