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American Space Traveler With The Longest Career Of Any Astronaut Dies At 87

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter

Retired U.S. Navy Captain John Young, who enjoyed the longest career of any astronaut, has passed away at the age of 87, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) revealed Saturday.

This legendary American astronaut commanded the Apollo 16 mission to the Moon in 1972, flew the first Space Shuttle mission in 1981, made six space flights over the course of 42 years at NASA, and walked on the lunar surface. Young, the ninth person to walk on the Moon, retired from NASA in 2004 with an outstanding service record.

Young became an astronaut in 1962 in the early days of the American space program, and he made his first space flight three years later aboard the first manned Gemini mission.

Prior to his service at NASA, Young was a Navy officer and aviator, as well as a test pilot and aeronautical engineer. He logged tens of thousands of flight hours aboard a variety aerial vehicles during his career.

In response to a question about whether or not he was anxious or nervous about making the first Space Shuttle flight, he once said: “Anyone who sits on top of the largest hydrogen-oxygen fueled system in the world, knowing they’re going to light the bottom, and doesn’t get a little worried, does not fully understand the situation.”

Nonetheless, he boldly traveled into space repeatedly, advancing America’s space program.

STS-1 crew members Commander John Young (L) and Pilot Robert Crippen pose with a model of the Space Shuttle Columbia at Johnson Space Center in Houston May, 7, 1979. Young and Crippen flew the first orbital mission of NASA's space shuttle program aboard the Columbia. REUTERS/NASA/Handout

STS-1 crew members Commander John Young (L) and Pilot Robert Crippen pose with a model of the Space Shuttle Columbia at Johnson Space Center in Houston May, 7, 1979. Young and Crippen flew the first orbital mission of NASA’s space shuttle program aboard the Columbia. REUTERS/NASA/Handout

Young’s military honors and awards include the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, four NASA Distinguished Service Medals, the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, the NASA Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal, NASA’s Outstanding Achievement Medal, Navy Astronaut Wings, two Navy Distinguished Service Medals, and — in case that wasn’t enough — three Navy Distinguished Flying Crosses.

This famous space traveler also held more than 80 civilian awards, as well as six honorary doctorates.

Correction: This article originally misstated the number of times Young walked on the moon. He made two flights to the moon; however, he only walked on its surface once.

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