Get extra lift from AOPA. Start your free trial today! Click here

Former astronaut Walter Cunningham dies

Last surviving member of Apollo 7 crew

Former astronaut Walter Cunningham, who flew into space on Apollo 7, died January 3 in Houston. He was 90.

NASA astronaut Walter Cunningham served as the lunar module pilot during the Apollo 7 mission. NASA photo.

On Apollo 7, the first launch of a crewed Apollo mission, “Walt and his crewmates made history,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. The mission launched October 11, 1968, and Cunningham was assigned to pilot the lunar module during the 11-day flight. With Walter M. Schirra Jr. and Donn F. Eisele, he tested maneuvers necessary for docking and lunar orbit rendezvous using the second stage of the Saturn 1B launch vehicle. The crew completed eight tests, including igniting the service module engine, and they did it on live television—they were the first to appear in a live transmission of onboard crew activities. The flight splashed down October 22, 1968, in the Atlantic Ocean, after traveling 263 hours and 4.5 million miles.

Nelson said the Apollo 7 mission paved the way for the Artemis Generation, a program announced in 2020 with the goal of sending the first women and next men to the moon as part of the Artemis lunar exploration program.

Cunningham was born March 16, 1932, in Creston, Iowa. He graduated from high school in Venice, California, and received a bachelor of arts degree with honors in physics and a master of arts degree with distinction in physics from UCLA. He later completed a doctoral degree in physics with exception of thesis at the Harvard Graduate School of Business.

Cunningham joined the U.S. Navy in 1951 and served on active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps. He flew 54 missions as a night fighter pilot in Korea. He became an astronaut in 1963 as part of NASA’s third astronaut class. He logged more than 4,500 hours of flying time in 40 different aircraft, including more than 3,400 hours in jet aircraft.

At NASA Johnson Space Center, Cunningham’s final assignment was chief of the Skylab branch of the Flight Crew Directorate, where he was responsible for operational inputs of five major pieces of manned space hardware, two different launch vehicles, and 56 major experiments. He retired from NASA in 1971 and served in various leadership roles with several technical and financial organizations.

Jill W. Tallman

Jill W. Tallman

AOPA Technical Editor
AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who is part-owner of a Cessna 182Q.
Topics: People

Related Articles