HOUSTON (CelebrityAccess) – Walter Cunningham, a part of the Apollo 7 flight crew, the first flight with a crew, died Tuesday (January 3) in Houston due to complications from a fall. He was 90.
The Cunningham family released a statement via NASA announcing the former astronaut’s death. “We would like to express our immense pride in the life that he lived and our deep gratitude for the man that he was – a patriot, an explorer, pilot, astronaut, husband, brother, and father. The world has lost another true hero, and we will miss him dearly.”
“Walt Cunningham was a fighter pilot, physicist, and an entrepreneur – but, above all, he was an explorer. On Apollo 7, the first launch of a crewed Apollo mission, Walt and his crewmates made history, paving the way for the Artemis Generation we see today,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “NASA will always remember his contributions to our nation’s space program and sends our condolences to the Cunningham family.”
The Apollo 7 mission flew into space in 1968. According to CNN, it lasted 11 days, sending the onboard crew into orbit – to demonstrate the Apollo capsule’s ability to meet up with another spacecraft while in orbit and pave the way for future treks into space. It was also the first live TV broadcast of Americans from space.
Cunningham was born Ronnie Walter Cunningham (March 16, 1932) in Creston, Iowa, and received an honors bachelor’s degree in physics and a masters with distinction in physics from the University of California, Los Angeles. In addition, he completed a doctorate in physics in the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Business in 1974.
Joining the Navy in 1951, he served on active duty with the US Marines, retiring at the rank of Colonel. He flew 54 missions as a night fighter pilot in Korea and worked as a scientist for the Rand Corporation for three years, where he worked on defense studies and problems related to the Earth’s magnetosphere. He was selected as an astronaut in 1963 as part of NASA’s third astronaut class, as reported on NASA.gov.
Cunningham’s last assignment at NASA was as chief of the Skylab branch of the Flight Crew Directorate. He was responsible for the operational inputs for five significant pieces of manned space hardware, two different launch vehicles and 56 major experiments that comprised the Skylab Program.
He retired from NASA in 1971 and would go on to serve in several executive roles at development companies. In addition, he worked as a consultant, became an entrepreneur, a keynote speaker, and a radio talk show host. He was also an outspoken critic of notions about humanity’s impact climate change. In 2010, he published a discussion paper titled, Global Warming: Facts versus Faith. In an editorial for the Houston Chronicle in 2010, Cunningham rejected the notion that empirical evidence supported global warming claims.
Cunningham is survived by his wife, his sister Cathy Cunningham, and two children, Brian and Kimberly.