Young served in many capacities at NASA including: Chief of the Space Shuttle Branch, Chief of the Astronaut Office, Technical Associate Director and more.
He flew into space six times during his 42 year career at NASA, including two trips to the moon.
"Today, NASA and the world have lost a pioneer", Robert Lightfoot, NASA administrator, said in a statement.
"John Young was at the forefront of human space exploration with his poise, talent, and tenacity", Lightfoot said.
Young's achievements were paired with a laconic style and a heartbeat that barely jumped after liftoff.
NASA announced Young's death on Twitter Saturday afternoon.
Young retired from NASA in 2004 and lived in El Lago, Texas with his wife Susy. "He was always questioning what we were doing and why we were doing it".
Young began his career at NASA in 1962, when he was selected from hundreds of young pilots to join NASA's second astronaut class. Two years later he became the first person to fly six space missions when he commanded Columbia on the first Spacelab mission. The crew tested the lander module in lunar orbit without landing it.
Young flew to the moon twice and landed on it once.
Counting his takeoff from the moon in 1972 as commander of Apollo 16, Young's blastoff tally stood at seven, for decades a world record.
He and crewmate Charles Duke gathered rock and soil samples and drove the lunar rover more than 16 miles (26km).
Once the USA 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.
After his return to Earth, the shuttle would become Young's next focus.
Young, left, with Robert Crippen, flew Columbia on STS-1, the Shuttle program's maiden flight in 1981. He was scheduled to fly for a seventh time to launch the Hubble Space Telescope in 1986, only to have that mission scrubbed following the loss of Space Shuttle Challenger.
"The technical truth always has to be told, and telling it regardless of the consequences was one of my personality traits that people who knew me well learned to put up with", Young wrote in "Forever Young", his 2012 autobiography. 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 retrospect, it's just so damn hard to believe that we hadn't pinpointed the problem".
Born in San Francisco in 1930, Young joined the US Navy in 1952. The family moved to Cartersville, Georgia, and then Orlando, Florida, as his father sought work during the Depression.