'Space pioneer' astronaut John Young who walked on the moon dies

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John Young, who was one of NASA's most experienced astronauts and the first to fly in space six times, including a moon landing, died on Friday after complications from pneumonia.

"NASA and the world have lost a pioneer", the United States space agency said in a statement.

Young was born in San Francisco and grew up in Orlando. From there, he joined the US Navy, served aboard the USS LAWS during the Korean War, and went on to attend the Navy Test Pilot School.

At NASA, Young enjoyed a notable career.

He was part of the first manned Gemini mission - with Gus Grissom on Gemini 3 in 1965. Together, they orbited Earth three times, testing thrusters that allowed the crew to maneuver in space, and was later reprimanded for smuggling a corn beef sandwich for the ride.

His May 1969 Apollo 10 mission served as a "dress rehearsal" for the historic Apollo 11 mission two months later in which Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon. The two spent nearly three days in space, completing 43 orbits of Earth.

Image: NASA, Charles M. Duke Jr.

'Space pioneer' astronaut John Young who walked on the moon dies

In April 1972, aboard Apollo 16, Young became the ninth member of the exclusive club of moon walkers.

He flew twice during the two-man Gemini missions of the mid-1960s, twice to the moon during the Apollo programme, and twice more aboard the new space shuttle Columbia in the early 1980s. NASA picked him in 1962 for its astronaut program.

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 US space jaunt.

His sixth and final flight came in November 1983, when he commanded Columbia on the STS-9 mission, which tested out a variety of scientific experiments with the Spacelab module.

Young was reassigned in 1987 as special assistant for engineering, operations and safety at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, a move he viewed as punishment for his outspokenness.

Once the U.S. 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.

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.