U.S. astronaut John Young dies aged 87

Young, 87, was often described as an "astronaut's astronaut", having gone to space six times and been the only NASA astronaut to participate in the Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle programs.

Born in San Francisco in 1930, Young joined the US Navy in 1952.

"John was one of that group of early space pioneers whose bravery and commitment sparked our nation's first great achievements in space", said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot in a statement. Afterward, he was assigned to the Naval Air Test Center for three years where his test projects included evaluations of the Crusader and Phantom fighter weapons systems and where he served as maintenance officer of Phantom Fighter Squadron (VFA) 143. He was the ninth man to walk on the moon.

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Young landed on the moon in 1972 and was the commander of the first space shuttle flight. Young and Duke set up scientific equipment and explored the lunar highlands at Descartes.

Astronaut, naval officer, test pilot and aeronautical engineer John Young died at his home in Houston following complications from pneumonia, NASA announced January 5. "They collected 200 pounds of rocks and drove over 16 miles in the lunar rover on three separate geology traverses", the biography records.

His last spaceflight in 1983 ended dramatically, with Columbia catching fire due to a propellant leak. Two years later, he became chief of the Astronaut Office, and was famed for his numerous memos and unrelenting push to improve astronaut safety, particularly after the Challenger disaster in 1986.

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Throughout his career, he earned more than 80 major honors and awards, including four honorary doctorate degrees.

"John truly was an American hero, and I felt so privileged to work for him when I got selected to be an astronaut in 1985", director of NASA's Kennedy Space Center Bob Cabana said. "He worked tirelessly for decades to understand and mitigate the risks that NASA astronauts face".

Young is survived by his second wife Susy Feldman, and his two children, John and Sandra, from his first marriage to Barbara White, which ended in divorce.

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