Former astronaut Walter Cunningham, one of the crew members in NASA‘s first Apollo Program, died on Tuesday in Houston. Cunnigham was 90 years old. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson remembered him as a physicist, fighter pilot, but above all as an explorer. ”On Apollo 7, Walt Cunningham made history along with his teammates in the first launch of a crewed Apollo mission by making the way for the Artemis Generation we know today,” NASA quoted Nelson as saying. He extended his condolences to the Cunningham family for the huge loss and said that NASA will always remember him for his contribution to the US space program.
Walter Cunnigham’s educational feat
Cunningham was born on March 16th, 1932 in Creston , Iowa. He completed his graduation from Venice High School, California. In the year 1960, he was awarded Bachelor’s of Arts with honours in Physics and received a Masters of Arts degree with distinction in Physics from the University of California in the year 1961. He then completed his doctorate degree in Physics from Harvard Graduate School of Business in the year 1974.
Cunnigham’s stint at NASA
After completion of his studies, he joined the Navy in the year 1951, provided his service in the US Marine Corps, and retired as a colonel. As a night fighter pilot, Cunnigham had accomplished 4,500 hours of flying time in 40 different aircraft. NASA selected him as an astronaut in 1963 as part of the organization’s third astronaut class.
Before joining the Apollo 7 crew, Cunningham was selected as an astronaut in 1963 as part of NASA’s third astronaut class. He was then assigned for the 11-day flight of Apollo 7 as a lunar module pilot. It was the first human flight test of the Apollo aircraft and it was launched on 11th October 1968. Walter M. Schirra Junior, Donn F. Eisele were the crew members along with Cunningham in this mission. He tested all the operations which were essential for docking and lunar orbit rendezvous. The procedure was conducted by using the second stage of the Saturn IB rocket.
The crew was responsible for the successful accomplishment of eight tests including igniting the service module engine and by monitoring the performance of all spacecraft systems. For the very first time all these activities were live transmitted on television. The overall mission took 263 hours of 4.4 million mile flight splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean on 22nd October, 1968.
”At the behest of Nasa’s Johnson Space Centre, we are indebted to Walt’s service to our nation and his contribution to expansion of human space exploration,” said Vanessa Wyche, center director, statement released by NASA said. Walt’s legacy will live on and will continue to inspire everyone, Wyche added.
Cunningham was last deputed as Chief of the Skylab branch of the Flight Crew Directorate at Nasa’s Johnson Space Centre and he served in Nasa till 1971. He carries several prestigious awards on his shoulder which include the NASA Distinguished Service Medal and NASA Exceptional Service Medal and many more.