Walter Cunningham: The space pioneer has died

Walter Cunningham
The space pioneer has died

Space pioneer Walter Cunningham in the summer of 1968.

Space pioneer Walter Cunningham in the summer of 1968.

© imago images/ZUMA Wire

Former astronaut and pilot of the first manned Apollo space flight, Walter Cunningham, has died at the age of 90.

The last Apollo 7 astronaut, Walter Cunningham (1932-2023), died Tuesday at the age of 90 in Houston, Texas. This was confirmed by NASA. “Nasa will always remember his contribution to our country’s space program and extends its condolences to the Cunningham family,” Space Agency Administrator Bill Nelson said in the statement announcing the news.

Cunningham’s family also paid tribute to the late astronaut after his death, expressing their “immense pride in the life he lived and our deep gratitude for the man he was – a patriot, an explorer, pilot, astronaut, husband, brother and father”. It continued: “The world has lost another true hero and we will miss him dearly.”

First manned “Apollo” space flight

Cunningham joined NASA in 1963 as one of three astronauts to take part in the first successful human space mission in 1968. Cunningham participated in the program alongside US Navy Capt. Walter M. Schirra Jr. (1923-2007) and US Air Force Major Donn F. Eisele (1930-1987). The famous “Apollo 7” mission, which lasted eleven days, later paved the way for the first human landing on the moon.

Cunningham was born on March 16, 1932 in Creston, Iowa and completed his high school education at Venice High School in California. He graduated from the University of California in 1960 with a Bachelor of Arts with honors in physics and in 1961 with a Master of Arts with honors in physics. In 1974 he received his doctorate in physics from the Harvard Graduate School of Business.

In 1951, Cunningham enlisted in the Navy and served on active duty in the US Marine Corps before working his way up to the rank of colonel until his retirement. In addition to his work as a scientist, he also worked as a night fighter pilot in Korea and had accumulated more than 4,500 flight hours before joining NASA.

An Emmy for reporting from space

Cunningham and the other members of the Apollo 7 mission received a special Emmy award for their daily reports from space. He left NASA in 1971 and then worked in various positions, including as a radio talk show host.

Walter Cunningham was married twice and had two children from his first marriage.