'Fearless' astronaut John Young dies at 87

Apollo astronaut John Young dies at 87

U.S. astronaut John Young, who flew to the moon twice and commanded the first ever space shuttle mission, has died aged 87, Nasa said. He commanded the Apollo 16 mission to the moon in 1972.

Over the course of his career he flew into space six times in the Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle programs.

"He was quite an asset to the space program", Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell said, according to an interview with the Orlando Sentinel when Young retired in 2004.

US astronaut Terry Virts said in a tweet: "Rest In Peace John Young". Spanning three generations of spaceflight, he went on to fly in space six times.

"NASA and the world have lost a pioneer", the USA space agency said in a statement.

And he commanded the first space shuttle flight, with pilot Bob Crippen, over three days in April 1981. The crew tested the lander module in lunar orbit without landing it. Terry Virts: "You were one of my heroes as an astronaut and your passion for space will be missed".

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Van Dyke's credits range from " My Mother the Car " in the 1960s to " Coach " in the late 1980s to, more recently, " The Middle ". A beloved comedian just like his brother, Jerry pursued stand-up as a young man and performed at military bases around the world.

He flew twice during the two-man Gemini missions of the mid-1960s, twice to the moon during NASA's Apollo program, and twice more aboard the new space shuttle Columbia in the early 1980s. It was the first time a piloted spacecraft was tested in space without previous orbital flights with nobody on board. Young had been due to command a space shuttle flight in 1986 but it was cancelled after the explosion of the shuttle Challenger earlier that year.

Young spent his last 17 years at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston in management, focusing on safety issues.

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

When asked what moment in his career was most memorable at his retirement from NASA in 2004, he replied, "I liked them all". But he was also described as a savvy engineer and a "test pilot's test pilot".

Even after he was moved to a desk job, Young kept his credentials current and remained a qualified astronaut until retiring at age 74.

"Even today, approaching a half century later, I swallow hard when I think back to the Apollo 1 fire and the deaths of our buddies", Young wrote in his memoir.

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