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Veteran shuttle astronaut John "Mike" Lounge dies at 64

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Former astronaut John "Mike" Lounge, who flew into orbit as part of three space shuttle crews, including the first mission after the 1986 Challenger disaster, died on Tuesday at age 64, NASA said on Thursday.

A posting on the authoritative space flight history website collectSpace.com said Lounge, a Colorado native and decorated Navy aviator during the Vietnam War, succumbed to complications from liver cancer.

Lounge began his NASA career in 1978 at the Johnson Space Center, serving as lead engineer for space shuttle-launched satellites and as a member of the Skylab reentry flight control team.

He became an astronaut himself in 1981 and flew his first shuttle mission, aboard Discovery, in 1985. In September 1988, Lounge joined another Discovery crew for NASA's first shuttle mission following the explosion of the Challenger some 2 1/2 years earlier.

His third and final space flight came in December 1990 aboard the space shuttle Columbia.

Over the course of all three shuttle flights, Lounge logged a total of 20 days, two hours and 23 minutes in orbit, according to collectSpace. News of his death came as Discovery orbited the Earth for what is scheduled to be its final mission in space.

Lounge went on to serve as the chief of NASA's Space Station Support Office, representing astronaut interests in space station design and planning until his retirement from the space agency in 1991.

"All of us at the Johnson Space Center are deeply saddened by the passing of former astronaut Mike Lounge," Michael Coats, director of the center, said in a statement announcing Lounge's death. "He had an unwavering love of country and dedication to our nation's space program."

After leaving NASA, Lounge became director of space shuttle and space station program development for Boeing.

(Writing and reporting by Steve Gorman; additional reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver, Chris Baltimore in Houston and Irene Klotz in Cape Canaveral, Fla.)