John Young, ‘most experienced’ U.S. astronaut, dies at 87

(Reuters) – U.S. astronaut John Young, who walked on the moon in 1972 and even smuggled a corned beef sandwich into orbit during a career that made him the only person to fly with three NASA space programs, has died at age 87, officials said on Saturday.

Young, who went to space six times, died on Friday night at his home in Houston following complications from pneumonia, National Aeronautics and Space Administration spokesman Allard Beutel said in an email.

The former U.S. Navy test pilot was the ninth person to set foot on the moon, an experience shared by three others after Young. He eventually became one of the most accomplished astronauts in the history of the U.S. space program.

He flew into space twice during NASA’s Gemini program in the mid-1960s, twice on the Apollo lunar missions and twice on space shuttles in the 1980s. He was the only person to fly on all three types of programs.

“Astronaut John Young’s storied career spanned three generations of spaceflight. We will stand on his shoulders as we look toward the next human frontier,” NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot said in a statement.

Young, described in a NASA tweet as “our most experienced astronaut,” retired in 2004 after 42 years with the U.S. space agency.

The Apollo 16 mission in April 1972, his fourth space flight, took Young to the lunar surface.

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.

Recalling his lunar exploits, Young told the Houston Chronicle in 2004: “One-sixth gravity on the surface of the moon is just delightful. It’s not like being in zero gravity, you know. You can drop a pencil in zero gravity and look for it for three days. In one-sixth gravity, you just look down and there it is.”

FILE PHOTO: Looking aft toward the cargo bay of NASA’s Space Shuttle Orbiter 102 vehicle, Columbia, Astronauts John Young (L) and Robert Crippen preview some of the intravehicular activity expected to take place during the orbiter’s flight test, at Kennedy Space Center October 10, 1980. NASA/Kennedy Space Center/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

Young’s first time in space came in 1965 with the Gemini 3 mission that took him and astronaut Gus Grissom into Earth orbit in the first two-person U.S. space jaunt.

It was on this mission that Young pulled his sandwich…

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