I also like space-sim rpgs, where you can choose your path in the galaxy(-ies) and become a fearsome pirate, a guard of freight ships carrying valuable cargo, or a (mostly) pacifist planet explorer. Preferably while being able to customize your ship a lot, by buying parts from planets or even salvaging foreign technologies and stuff. Does anything like that exist?
I recall a very old SEGA game that allowed you to land on planets and explore them with a land vehicle. The planet's atmospheric composition and temperatures could be scanned before landing and that gives you a hint about what climate zones you'll encounter, whether you can breathe without supporting equipment and If/what flaura and fauna lives in the planet.
I think the game you're thinking about is Star Control II, which can be found on the internet for free now, and legally too.
As for a suggestion in that genre, Escape Velocity Nova, full stop. It's about ten years old now, but will run on modern stuff just fine (or mostly fine in a few cases). It's a downloadable, $30 game, but you can try it for free for 30 days with a few restrictions on what you can do (for example, no capturing disabled ships, some stuff is unbuyable, can't complete major storylines, can't use plug-ins (aka mods), etc.) While there are six major storylines, you're pretty much free to do whatever before, in between their missions, and afterwards. Or ignore them completely. Whether you want to slaughter everyone, trade cargo peacefully, dominate the galaxy, or just be a galactic taxi service, you can do it. Lots of ship customization too, though there isn't any scavenging or crafting.
More importantly though, EVN has thousands of mods. A couple of the most notable are full, and legally free, ports of the previous games: Escape Velocity and Escape Velocity Override. So, you really get three games for one and, if you use Windows or Linux, it's the only way you can play EV and EVO without emulating OS9. Other mods do things from changing the starting amount of cash to completely replacing the in-game universe with an entirely new one, essentially giving you a whole new game to explore. Some those are quite good, though I might be a little biased since I made one of those total conversions (among a fair number of other mods).
On the downside for you, there is a fair bit of text. Each planet, outfit, ship, and bar has a description, though you can safely ignore them as they're largely flavor. The storylines in vanilla usually have some decent chunks of text, but they're well written (by a pair of novelists even). Those you'll want to pay more attention to so you know what's going on. But, you'll still spend the vast majority of the time trading, blasting, or whatever it is you want to do even if you read every bit of text that comes your way.
The best strategy most frequently overlooked by new players for surviving: not starting a fight to begin with.