John W. Young, who flew six times to space – becoming the first one ever -, walked on the moon once and led the first Gemini and space shuttle missions, passed away on Friday. According to Robert Lightfoot, the acting administrator of NASA, he was at his home in Houston and suffered from pneumonia complications. He was 87.

Young is remembered for being the only astronaut to fly in the Gemini, Apollo and shuttle programs. He was a Navy test pilot before being part of the second group of astronauts hired by the NASA. In 1962, he and his team joined the so-called “Mercury Seven,” which had been organized for the past three years.

He’s known for all of the experience he had as a NASA pilot – something earned due to more than the number of times he flew to space.

Young joined Gus Grissom while attending the first Gemini mission, in 1965: the Gemini 3. In April 1981, along with pilot Bob Crippen, he commanded the first shuttle flight.

John W. Young dies at 87, NASA pilot, Six times to space, Shuttle missions
Complications due to pneumonia led John Young to death. Image credit: NASA

“NASA and the world have lost a pioneer,” said Robert Lightfoot in a statement the day after Young died. “John Young’s storied career spanned three generations of spaceflight; we will stand on his shoulders as we look toward the next human frontier.”

Robert Crippen, who traveled with Mr. Young on the shuttle flight, said he was an inspiration to every astronaut that knew about him. Additionally, Crippen noted that if an astronaut reached to have a hero,” that one would be “John Young.”

Young traveled to the moon twice and landed once. He was part of the crew of Apollo 10, which flew into lunar orbit in May 1969. He prepared for that for an entire year.

On his second trip, Young walked on the satellite as part of Apollo 16 in 1972.

The American astronaut is also known for having been the chief of NASA astronauts’ office for 13 years and Johnson Space Center’s leading executive, in Houston.

The ‘hero’ of every astronaut

He described his 42-years career at the NASA in December 2014. After being honored by the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum for his retirement, he told The Orlando Sentinel that “anybody could have done it.” However, they had to just “hang in there.”

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

John W. Young dies at 87, NASA pilot, Six times to space, Shuttle missions
Young smoking for a LIFE photographer in 1965, seven years before he flew to the moon. Image credit: LIFE

The previous Navy test pilot was not only extraordinary at flying spacecraft. He also was an excellent engineer who attempted to solve any troubleshooting technical problem while being prepared for his missions and other flights.

When many astronauts decided to leave NASA and become part of the business world, Mr. Young stayed in the space agency.

Crippen once said that it was commonly “rare” to see and individual personifying it chosen profession. But seeing “John Young” was actually rarer.

Source: The New York Times