Young was an aeronautical engineer who later in his NASA career served as the chief of the astronaut office, choosing those who would fly on the shuttle.
Young was selected as a NASA astronaut in 1962. He flew on the first manned flight of the Gemini spacecraft in 1965 (and led a flight in 1966), traveled to the Moon twice (including a moonwalk during Apollo 16) and played a key role in the rescue of Apollo 13 by helping to stretch out its resources.
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 USA space jaunt.
In NASA's history, few astronauts were more accomplished than John Young. He walked on the moon in 1972, and piloted the first Space Shuttle flight in 1981.
Space agency Nasa said he died on Friday at home in Houston following complications from pneumonia.
News of his death prompted tributes, including from fellow astronauts who called him a "hero" and "astronauts' astronaut", and from former President George H.W. Bush.
More on the life of John Young, an 'astronauts' astronaut'
"To us, he represented the best in the American spirit - always looking forward, always reaching higher", Bush said in a statement. He was part of the Apollo 10 crew that orbited the moon in May 1969 in preparation for the first landing later that year.
Robert Crippen, Young's co-pilot on Columbia's successful maiden voyage in 1981, told The Associated Press that flying with Young was "a real treat".
The next year, on Gemini 10, Young and Mike Collins completed a dual docking and other manoeuvres as prelude to the Apollo program's quest to put a man on the moon. He showed us the space shuttle trainer in Building 9, were astronauts learn how to fly the orbiter.
Former shuttle commander Scott Kelly also said Young was "the astronauts' astronaut" and a "true legend". "May his memory serve to inspire future generations of explorers to dare greatly, act boldly, and serve selflessly". He retired in 2004.
He was born in 1930 and grew up in Orlando, Florida.
From there, Young joined the Apollo program, where he was assigned to the Apollo 7 backup crew as the Command Module Pilot, along with astronauts Thomas Stafford and Eugene Cernan.
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