Walter Cunningham, pilot of the Apollo 7 lunar module, the first crewed flight in the US agency’s Apollo Program, has died at the age of 90. NASA has described the astronaut as an “explorer” rather than a fighter pilot, physicist and entrepreneur.
The Artemis I mission spacecraft reaches the Moon
Cunningham was born on March 16, 1932, in Creston, Iowa. He graduated with honors in Humanities and Physics in 1960, and received a Master of Arts with distinction in Physics in 1961 from the University of California, Los Angeles. He joined the Navy in 1951 and served active duty with the United States Marine Corps, retiring with the rank of colonel, having flown 54 missions as a night fighter pilot in Korea.
After working as a scientist in a private corporation, he was selected as an astronaut in 1963, as part of the third generation of NASA astronauts.
Before being assigned to the crew of Apollo 7, Cunningham was part of the prime crew of Apollo 2 until its cancellation and was the reserve lunar module pilot for Apollo 1.
On October 11, 1968, Cunningham piloted the 11-day flight of Apollo 7, the first manned test of the Apollo space project. With Walter M. Schirra (commander) and Donn F. Eisele, he tested the rendezvous and docking maneuvers in lunar orbit using their Saturn IB launch vehicle. The crew successfully completed eight tests, NASA notes.
The 263-hour, 4.5 million-mile (about 7.2 million kilometers) flight splashed down on October 22, 1968, in the Atlantic Ocean. Walter M. Schirra passed away in 2007 and Donn F. Eisele in 1987.
Cunningham’s last assignment at NASA Johnson was head of the Skylab branch of the Flight Crew Directorate and retired from the space agency in 1971, where he would continue to direct multiple technical and financial assignments.
“On Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission launch, Walt and his colleagues made history, paving the way for the Artemis Generation we see today,” said NASA chief Bill Nelson.
“On behalf of the NASA Johnson Space Center, we are indebted to Walt’s service to our nation and his dedication to advancing human space exploration,” said Vanessa Wyche, director of the center.