He also once famously smuggled a corned beef sandwich on to a space flight as a gift for a fellow astronaut.
Young became one of the most accomplished astronauts in the history of the US space program.
He was picked as a Nasa astronaut in 1962 and first went into space in 1965 with the Gemini 3 mission.
The space agency said in a statement that Young died Friday night following complications from pneumonia.
Young returned to space on July 18th 1966 as the Command Pilot for Gemini 10, along with future Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins.
The next year, on Gemini 10, Young and Mike Collins completed a dual docking and other maneuvers as prelude to the Apollo program's quest to put a man on the moon.
John Young salutes on the surface of the Moon on April 21, 1972. The crew tested the lander module in lunar orbit without landing it. He commanded the Apollo 16 mission to the moon in 1972. Young then went on to stand on the moon, drive 16 miles in a lunar rover and spent three nights on the lunar surface.
"Earth's geologic history is pretty clear: It says, quite frankly, that single-planet species don't last", Young said, according to a 2004 Houston Chronicle story. According to media reports, Young smuggled a corned beef sandwich in his spacesuit, a move that didn't sit well with NASA staff in Houston who anxious about the crumbs.
In April 1981, he commanded Space Shuttle Columbia on its - and the Shuttle program's - first flight, STS-1. NASA promoted him to Chief of the Space Shuttle Branch of the Astronaut Office in 1973, and then the entire Astronaut Office, which oversees training and operations of the Astronaut corps. It was the first time a piloted spacecraft was tested in space without previous orbital flights with nobody on board. He became the first person to fly six space missions in 1983, when he commanded Columbia on the first Spacelab trek, with the crew performing more than 70 scientific experiments.
In news interviews and testimony to the presidential commission that investigated the accident, he warned that space shuttles would continue to reveal defects.
John Watts Young was born September 24, 1930, in San Francisco to William Young and Wanda Howland Young. After receiving a degree in aeronautical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1952, he entered the Navy and graduated from its test pilot school.