John Young, ninth man to walk on the moon, dies

By Allen Cone
John Young, who flew on six spacecraft, died Friday after complications from pneumonia. Photo courtesy of NASA
John Young, who flew on six spacecraft, died Friday after complications from pneumonia. Photo courtesy of NASA

Jan. 6 (UPI) -- John Young, one of 12 men to walk on the moon and NASA's longest-serving astronaut, died Friday at home in Houston after complications from pneumonia. He was 87.

"John Young was at the forefront of human space exploration with his poise, talent, and tenacity," said NASA acting administrator Robert Lightfoot in a statement Saturday. He was in every way the 'astronaut's astronaut.' We will miss him."


During a 42-year career, Young flew on three types of spacecraft twice spanning three decades: Gemini in the mid-1960s, Apollo in late '60s and early 1970s, and shuttles in the 1980s.

That included debut flights on two-man Gemini craft and a space shuttle. Aboard the three-man Apollo he flew to the moon, including once landing on it. Five men who walked on the moon are still alive.


"NASA and the world have lost a pioneer," Lightfoot said. "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."

During his career, he logged 34 days, 19 hours and 39 minutes in space, including 20 hours and 14 minutes walking on the moon.

"I've been very lucky, I think," Young said in a NASA interview in 2004, when he retired from the space agency after 42 years.

In 1962, Young was the second generation of astronauts after original Mercury Seven

He flew on the maiden Gemini flight with original Mercury astronaut Virgil "Gus" Grissom on March 23, 1965, in a nearly five-hour voyage.

His second Gemini flight in July 1966 with Michael Collins included two spacewalks.

On Apollo 10 in May 1969, he circled the moon alone as Thomas Stafford and Eugene Cernan came within 47,000 feet of the moon's surface.


On the Apollo 16 mission, Young landed the "Orion" lunar module on the moon in April 1972 with Charles Duke for nearly three days as Thomas "Ken" Mattingly piloted the command craft. He was the ninth man to walk on the moon.

While walking on the moon, Young and Duke received word that Congress had approved the funding to develop the space shuttle.

"The country needs that shuttle mighty bad," Young said. "You'll see."

Nine years later, he launched the space shuttle Columbia with Robert Crippen on April 12, 1981.

After two days and six hours, they landed a spacecraft for the first time on land instead of water -- at Edwards Air Force Base in southern California.

"This is the world's greatest flying machine, I'll tell you that," Young said as the orbiter came to a wheels stop under his control.

In November 1983, he also piloted Columbia's sixth mission with a crew of five. He returned to Earth for the last time on Dec. 8, 1983.

When the space shuttle Challenger and its seven-person crew was lost in January 1986, Young criticized NASA's attention to safety. He wrote astronauts who had launched on missions were "very lucky" to be alive.


Young became special assistant to the director of the Johnson Space Center for engineering, operations and safety in Houston. In 1996, he was named the associate director for technical affairs until he retired from NASA on Dec. 31, 2004.

As a Navy pilot, he logged more than 15,275 hours in props, jets, helicopters and rocket jets.

Young, who was born in San Francisco, earned his Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1952.

After graduation, he entered the U.S. Navy, including serving on the destroyer USS Laws in the Korean War.

"Between his service in the U.S. Navy, where he retired at the rank of captain, and his later work as a civilian at NASA, John spent his entire life in service to our country," Lightfoot said.

A U.S. destroyer and a stretch of Florida State Road 423 that runs through Orlando, called John Young Parkway, are named in his honor.

Former President George H.W. Bush called Young a "good friend" in a statement.

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