John Young was an astronaut’s astronaut—quiet, reticent, and utterly reliable in space. During his long and incomparable career as an astronaut, he flew three different vehicles into space: the Gemini capsule, the Apollo capsule, and the space shuttle. He died Friday night, at the age of 87, from complications of pneumonia.
With a tenure that spanned 42 years, Young had the longest career of any astronaut. He piloted the first fight of a Gemini spacecraft, alongside commander Gus Grissom, commanded another Gemini mission, then flew two Apollo missions to the Moon, and finally commanded the first and ninth flights of the space shuttle. During Apollo 16, he spent 71 hours on the surface of the Moon, and also flew the lunar module. With his passing, just five living human beings have walked on the Moon: Buzz Aldrin, 87; Alan Bean, 85; Dave Scott, 85; Charlie Duke, 82; and Harrison Schmitt, 82.
After earning a degree in aeronautical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1952, Young joined the US Navy. He was not eligible for the initial Mercury class of astronauts in 1959, but he was a member of the next nine selected in 1962, a legendary class that included Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell, and others who flew many of the Gemini and Apollo missions.