Last Surviving Apollo Astronaut Walter Cunningham Dies At 90: NASA has verified that Walter Cunningham, a retired astronaut who piloted the first successful crewed flight of the Apollo program, passed away in Houston on Tuesday. At 90 years old, he was.
Cunningham died “from effects of a fall, following a long and complete life,” a family spokesperson told the Associated Press. However, the cause of death was not disclosed in NASA’s announcement.
The Cunningham family released a statement in which they said, “We would want to convey our tremendous pride in the life that he lived, and our heartfelt thanks for the man that he was—a patriot, an explorer, pilot, astronaut, husband, brother, and father.” Another great hero has left the earth, and we shall miss him terribly.
Cunningham, a member of NASA’s third astronaut class in 1963, only made one space journey, but his mission in October 1968 helped to restart the Apollo program and opened the door for NASA to send a man to the moon the following year.
Along with Walter Schirra and Donn Eisele, he and his crewmates in low-Earth orbit for 11 days also broadcast the first live television program from a crewed American spacecraft.
Last surviving astronaut of NASA's Apollo 7 mission dies at 90
Walter Cunningham's Apollo 7 mission in 1968 opened way for 1st human moon landing months later in 1969 https://t.co/KiNqVnKxTK pic.twitter.com/g2MSIBtCzA
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The trio “became well-known for their daily 10-minute television shows from orbit, during which they clowned around, held up humorous signs and generally educated television viewers back on earth about space flight,” according to a 1987 New York Times article.
After their initial seven-minute broadcast, the trio “became well-known for their seven-minute broadcasts.” Following a successful splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean, they were awarded a unique Emmy for the broadcasts.
Apollo 7 was launched just over 20 months after the cabin fire that claimed the lives of three astronauts during a launch practice test for Apollo 1, which was supposed to be the program’s first crewed mission. The astronauts would have been preoccupied with the catastrophe. Still, the accomplishment of their mission helped restore the agency’s damaged faith, which allowed Apollo 8 to be launched into lunar orbit that December.
Even though Apollo 7 did not have a lunar module, Cunningham was chosen to be the pilot. In August last year, Cunningham told The Spokesman-Review, “It turns out we didn’t get the lunar module in time.” But my position as lunar module pilot was still listed. However, the main event was that everyone on board was an expert in the spaceship in some capacity.
The mission’s primary goal was to test the command and service modules’ capabilities thoroughly. We made a lot of improvements and were able to pilot a much superior spaceship as a result. In a 1999 interview for an oral history project, Cunningham told NASA. “The one we took off in was almost flawless! I mean, you couldn’t have asked for a finer piece of hardware when buying it for the first time.
But even as he was conducting tests, Schirra, the mission commander, was at odds with Houston on issues like the weather during launch, the food served on board, the bulky spacesuits, and whether or not helmets should be worn during reentry. (To make matters worse, Schirra also had the first head cold in orbit, which made things worse.)
According to the historians Francis French and Colin Burgess, Eisele also expressed his annoyance after they had to complete a particularly annoying test by radioing furiously to mission control, “We didn’t get a damn thing… you bet your ass… as far as we’re concerned, somebody down there screwed up royally when he laid that one on us.”
The press, according to Cunningham, inflated the tale of a nearly mutinous space crew, he claimed to The Spokesman-Review. He claimed that we never gave it as much attention as the ground did. We thought we had a great time from our vantage point on board.
Cunningham was never sent back up again, perhaps due to the conflict. He acknowledged that he had been briefly assigned to command another expedition before its cancellation and admitted, “I was a little letdown.
According to Cunningham, he was “the poorest guy ever” when he was born in Creston, Iowa, in 1932, and one of his early childhood goals was to join the Navy. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1951, and during his time there, he performed 54-night missions. After leaving active duty, Cunningham went to the University of California, Los Angeles, where he obtained a master’s degree in physics.
In the oral history interview, Cunningham reflected, “All I remember is just sort of sticking my nose to the grindstone and wanting to do the best I could as—I didn’t realize at the time, but that was because I always wanted to be better equipped for the next level.” I’ve always had my eyes on the future.
Despite his work in science, Cunningham would be renowned for opposing the dominant view on climate change and arguing that human activity does not significantly contribute to the planet’s warming.
Cunningham rose through the ranks after Apollo 7 to become the head of NASA’s Skylab branch. In 1971, he left the agency and went on to work as a businessman, lecturer, venture capital investor, and radio program host.
He leaves behind his wife Dot, his sister Cathy Cunningham, and his two children from a previous marriage, Brian and Kimberley.