John Young: Original Space Shuttle Commander Dies at 87

Spaceflight recently lost NASA astronaut John Young, one of its better-known icons, who has died at the age of 87. Young was best known as the first Space Shuttle mission’s commander, taking Columbia into orbit in 1981. However, that was only one of a series of his achievements. In 1961, Young flew on the first manned flight of the spacecraft called Gemini. He also led a flight in 1966. He was able to travel to the Moon twice which includes a moonwalk during Apollo 16. He also played an important role in Apollo 13’s rescue by helping to stretch out its resources. On his sixth and last spaceflight, which was said to be record-setting, he flew the very first Spacelab module into orbit while aboard the Space Shuttle, where he both avoided a mid-flight disaster, and he was able to land while an auxiliary power unit was on fire.

Young was also one of the longer serving astronauts of NASA. He served for 42 years at the agency and retired in 2004. In other words, he observed dramatic changes to spaceflight all throughout his career — he started during the time of the Space Race and retired when the International Space Station had already become a mainstay. His passing is a huge loss for the agency and a reflection of how fast space travel progressed in a single lifetime.