NASA astronaut John Young, who flew first Space Shuttle mission, dies at 87

HOUSTON – NASA announced the death of astronaut John Young Saturday. He was 87.

Young flew twice to the Moon, walked on its surface and flew the first Space Shuttle mission, NASA announced on Twitter.

He went to space six times in the Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle programs, NASA tweeted.

He was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, four NASA Distinguished Service Medals, the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, NASA Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal, NASA Outstanding Achievement Medal, Navy Astronaut Wings and many others, according to his NASA profile.

Young was also the recipient of more than 80 other major awards, including 6 honorary doctorate degrees, according to his profile.

According to NBC Affiliate, his name can be seen outside his childhood home in College Park and by Central Floridians traveling State Road 423, which is named John Young Parkway in his honor, the website said. An elementary school in Orange County is also named after Young.

After graduating from Georgia Tech, Young entered the U.S. Navy. After serving in the Korean War, he was sent to flight training. He was then assigned to Fighter Squadron 103 for four years, flying Cougars and Crusaders, according to his profile.

NASA released the following statement about his death: 

“Today, NASA and the world have lost a pioneer. 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.

“John was one of that group of early space pioneers whose bravery and commitment sparked our nation's first great achievements in space. But, not content with that, his hands-on contributions continued long after the last of his six spaceflights -- a world record at the time of his retirement from the cockpit.

“Between his service in the U.S. Navy, where he retired at the rank of captain, and his later work as a civilian at NASA, John spent his entire life in service to our country.  His career included the test pilot’s dream of two ‘first flights’ in a new spacecraft -- with Gus Grissom on Gemini 3, and as Commander of STS-1, the first space shuttle mission, which some have called ‘the boldest test flight in history.’ He flew as Commander on Gemini 10, the first mission to rendezvous with two separate spacecraft the course of a single flight. He orbited the Moon in Apollo 10, and landed there as Commander of the Apollo 16 mission. On STS-9, his final spaceflight, and in an iconic display of test pilot ‘cool,’ he landed the space shuttle with a fire in the back end. 

“I participated in many Space Shuttle Flight Readiness Reviews with John, and will always remember him as the classic ‘hell of an engineer’ from Georgia Tech, who had an uncanny ability to cut to the heart of a technical issue by posing the perfect question -- followed by his iconic phrase, ‘Just asking...’ 

“John Young was at the forefront of human space exploration with his poise, talent, and tenacity.  He was in every way the 'astronaut’s astronaut.' We will miss him.”

Former President George H.W. Bush released the following statement about his death:

Barbara and I join our fellow Americans and many friends in the space community in mourning the loss of astronaut John Young. John was more than a good friend; he was a fearless patriot whose courage and commitment to duty helped our Nation push back the horizon of discovery at a critical time. To us, he represented the best in the American spirit — always looking forward, always reaching higher. John leaves a tremendous legacy of accomplishment, in addition to his wonderful family. May his memory serve to inspire future generations of explorers to dare greatly, act boldly, and serve selflessly.