Astronaut John Young, Who Walked On The Moon, Dies At 87

Space FrontiersGetty Images

John Young, who preferred to stay out of the spotlight, was one of NASA’s most experienced astronauts. On Friday, Young died at the age of 87 after complications from pneumonia. Young was the first astronaut to fly in space six times, which included landing and walking on the moon.

According to NPR, John Young was one of the most accomplished astronauts in NASA’s history. Young accomplished many firsts while at NASA, as he was not only the first astronaut to fly in space six times, he was also on the first Gemini mission and he also commanded the first shuttle flight for NASA. Another accomplishment for Young, which was not a first for NASA, was that he was one of 12 people to walk on the moon.

If you did not know John Young, he was definitely a big name in the science and NASA world. Author Andrew Chaikin, who writes extensively on NASA, said that “if anybody deserves the title of legend, it would be John Young.”

John Young started his career as a test pilot in the Navy. With NASA, he was co-pilot on the first Gemini mission, which took place in 1965. He went on to command a Gemini flight one year later. He also orbited the moon on Apollo 10.

This all led up to the big moment in Young’s life, as he got the opportunity to walk on the moon in 1972. Young was the commander on Apollo 16, which landed on the moon. This was a special moment for Young, as NPR stated that Young seemed to be speechless at the time.

“Houston, uh, boy. I can see Ray Crater from here. Boy!”

John Young went on to command the very first space shuttle mission for NASA in 1981. This was the first time NASA sent a vehicle into space that had people on board without a prior unmanned launch.


Later in his career, Young served as the chief of the astronaut office. Young would choose the astronauts who would fly on the shuttle. He also advised on engineering, operations, and safety matters. Chaikin talked about how Young would shock his coworkers in meetings.

“He would go into meetings with the specialists for a particular system and he would say in this kind of country-boy way, ‘Well, you know, I don’t understand much about the such and such but what gets me is…’ and then he would proceed to ask just a completely penetrating technical question that would just, you know, flatten these people.”

In his autobiography, Forever Young: A Life of Adventure in Air and Space, Young talked about how he felt responsible for the loss of the shuttles Columbia and Challenger since his crews were on board. He struggled with the idea that the agency could have missed the warning signs.

After 42 years with the agency, Young retired from NASA in 2004. He was the longest-serving astronaut in NASA history.