The former astronaut of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Walter Cunninghamwho was the pilot of the Apollo 7 lunar module, the first crewed flight in the US agency’s Apollo Program, died in Houston (Texas) at dawn on Tuesday, at the age of 90.
“On Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission launch, Walt and his companions made history, paving the way for the Artemis Generation we see today,” NASA chief Bill Nelson explained in the note.
Today we mourn the passing of Walt Cunningham: U.S. Marine, patriot, and Apollo astronaut.
Cunningham spent 11 days in low-Earth orbit during Apollo 7, the first crewed Apollo flight, and was instrumental to our Moon landing’s program success: https://t.co/VrXhOwQwYd pic.twitter.com/8uquEjdxM7
— NASA (@NASA) January 3, 2023
Cunningham was born on March 16, 1932, in Creston, Iowa. He received a BA with honors in Humanities and Physics in 1960, and a Master of Arts with distinction in Physics in 1961 from the University of California, Los Angeles.
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.
“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, center director.
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, Jr. and Donn F. Eisele, he tested the maneuvers necessary for lunar orbit docking and rendezvous using the third stage of his 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.
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.