John Young, legendary moonwalker and shuttle commander, dead at 87

Young is the only astronaut who took part in the Gemini, Apollo and space shuttle programmes. Young died age of 87.

John Watts Young was born September 24, 1930, in San Francisco to William Young and Wanda Howland Young.

The astronaut legend flew to space six times in the Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle Programs during his time NASA. "You were one of my heroes as an astronaut and explorer and your passion for space will be missed".

Once the US had beaten the Soviet Union's cosmonauts to the moon and funding dried up, Young pushed NASA to return to the moon or venture to Mars, to provide the human race with a backup home in the event of Earth's destruction. His earliest voyage into space was on Gemini 3, the agency's first two-man flight, commanded by Virgil "Gus" Grissom, in 1965.

His May 1969 Apollo 10 mission served as a "dress rehearsal" for the historic Apollo 11 mission two months later in which Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon. The two spent nearly three days in space, completing 43 orbits of Earth.

From there, Young joined the Apollo program, where he was assigned to the Apollo 7 backup crew as the Command Module Pilot, along with astronauts Thomas Stafford and Eugene Cernan.

Young finally walked on the moon himself in 1972 as commander of the Apollo 16 mission - the ninth of 12 people to have ever set foot on the lunar surface.

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As mission commander, he and crewmate Charles Duke explored the moon's Descartes Highlands region, gathering 200 pounds (90 kg) of rock and soil samples and driving more than 16 miles (26 km) in the lunar rover to sites such as Spook Crater.

"Earth's geologic history is pretty clear: It says, quite frankly, that single-planet species don't last", Young said, according to a 2004 Houston Chronicle story. NASA promoted him to Chief of the Space Shuttle Branch of the Astronaut Office in 1973, and then the entire Astronaut Office, which oversees training and operations of the Astronaut corps.

He also commissioned the first mission of the American Space Shuttle in 1981.

In a post on Twitter, NASA called Young their "most experienced astronaut".

He flew into space six times during his 42 year career at NASA, including two trips to the moon.

In a statement, acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot said that Young was one of the "early space pioneers whose bravery and commitment sparked our nation's first great achievements in space", who spent his entire life in the service to his country, and that he was "in every way the 'astronaut's astronaut'".

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