John Young, 'most experienced' USA astronaut, dies at 87

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Young, a Navy Test Pilot, was selected as an astronaut in 1962.

Young was a man of many firsts: the only astronaut to fly in the Gemini, Apollo and space shuttle programs (and the first to command a shuttle flight); and the first to fly into space six times. "We will stand on his shoulders as we look toward the next human frontier", NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot said in a statement.

We're saddened by the loss of astronaut John Young, who was 87. "He was always questioning what we were doing and why we were doing it".

Legendary astronaut John Young died today.

He was part of the first manned Gemini mission - with Gus Grissom on Gemini 3 in 1965.

Young orbited the moon on Apollo 10 in May 1969 in preparation for the Apollo 11 landing that was to follow. Young remained in the command capsule as Thomas Stafford and Eugene Cernan descended in a lunar module to within 9 miles of the moon's surface. During that time, they performed rendezvous maneuvers with a pair of Agena target vehicles that were already in orbit.

In 1972, as Commander for the Apollo 16 mission, Young became the ninth person to walk. He spent three lunar nights on the surface and drove more than 25km in a lunar rover.

John Young, 'most experienced' USA astronaut, dies at 87

Once the USA 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.

He feared it would get him fired, Mr Young said.

Young was the longest serving astronaut, who worked with NASA for 42 years.

After his return to Earth, the shuttle would become Young's next focus.

In 1981, he served as Commander of STS-1, the first space shuttle mission, which some have called "the boldest test flight in history". A memo he had sent three weeks earlier, leaked to the media after the tragedy, criticised Nasa for compromising protection to meet launch schedules. Young had been due to command a 1986 flight that was canceled after the explosion of the shuttle Challenger earlier that year.

Not many people argued with John Young. He later served as Special Assistant to the Director of Johnson Space Center for Engineering, Operations, and Safety.

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