Walter Cunningham: The last surviving Apollo 7 astronaut has passed away

Walter Cunningham: The last surviving Apollo 7 astronaut has passed away

Walter Cunningham: The last surviving Apollo 7 astronaut has passed away

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Walter Cunningham, a retired NASA astronaut and pilot of the first crewed flight in the space agency’s famed Apollo program, died early Tuesday morning at age 90, NASA said.

Cunningham was one of the first members of NASA’s human spaceflight program as a member of the third astronaut class, joining the space agency in 1963. He was selected to pilot Apollo 7, the NASA program’s first manned mission to land humans. for the first time on the moon.

“We want to express our immense pride in the life he led, and our deep gratitude for the man he was – a patriot, explorer, pilot, astronaut, husband, brother and father,” the Cunningham family wrote in a statement shared. by NASA. “The world has lost another true hero and we will miss him dearly.”

Walter Cunningham: The last surviving Apollo 7 astronaut has passed away

Launched in 1968 and lasting about 11 days, the Apollo 7 mission sent the crew on a journey to orbit that amounted to a test flight that could demonstrate the Apollo capsule’s ability to launch another spacecraft into orbiting Earth and paving the way for future exploration deeper into space. It was also notable for being featured in Americans’ first live TV broadcast from space, according to NASA.

Cunningham was the last surviving member of the Apollo 7 crew, which included astronauts Wally Schira and Don Eisele.

Born in Creston, Iowa, and a recipient of a bachelor’s degree in physics and a masters with honors in physics from the University of California at Los Angeles, Cunningham was 36 years old when the Apollo 7 mission took off. During a interview at NASA’s Oral History Office in 1999, he reflected on his career path and motivations.

The crew of NASA's first crewed Apollo flight — (from left) Cunningham, Donn F. Eisele, and Walter M. Schirra — prepare for mission simulator testing in 1968 at the North American Aviation plant.

“I am one of those people who never really looked back. I don’t remember that until someone asked me about it after I became an astronaut,” Cunningham said. “All I remember is keeping my nose to the grindstone and wanting to do my best, as I didn’t realize at the time, but that was because I always wanted to be better prepared for the next step. I have always looked to the future. I don’t live in the past.”

Although he only ventured into space once, Cunningham became a leader in NASA’s Skylab program, the United States’ first space station to orbit the Earth from 1973 to 1979.

Before joining NASA, Cunningham enlisted in the United States Navy and began pilot training in 1952, according to his officially NASA biography, and he served as a fighter pilot with the US Marine Corps on 54 missions in Korea.

“The only thing I can remember doing specifically to become an astronaut, because I looked at it was that I had become one of, if not the best fighter pilot in the world,” Cunningham said in the interview with NASA’s Oral History Office.

Cunningham also completed a PhD in physics at UCLA without completing a dissertation, and later, in 1974, completed an advanced management program at the Harvard Graduate School of Business, according to NASA.

Cunningham testifies on space exploration at the hearing of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation's Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Feb. 24, 2015.

He worked as a physicist for the Rand Corporation, a non-profit military think tank, before joining the astronaut corps.

After leaving the space agency, Cunningham wore many hats and served in a variety of roles in the private sector. According to his NASA biography, he held a number of executive positions in development companies, worked as a consultant to startups, became an entrepreneur and investor, and eventually became a radio talk show host.

In later years, Cunningham also became an outspoken critic of prevailing views on humanity’s impact on climate change.

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