Walter Cunningham, Astronaut on NASA’s Apollo 7, Dies at 90

Walter Cunningham, a retired astronaut who served as a pilot on the first successful crewed mission of NASA’s Apollo program, has died in Houston on Tuesday, May 10. Space Agency confirmed. He was 90 years old.

The cause of death was not shared in the NASA statement, but a family spokesman told Related press that Cunningham died “as a result of a fall, after a full and fulfilling life.”

The Cunningham family said: “We want to express our great pride in the life he has lived and our deep gratitude for who he was—a patriot, an explorer adventurer, pilot, astronaut, husband, brother and father”. statement. “The world has lost another true hero, and we will miss him immensely.”

A member of NASA’s third class of astronauts in 1963, Cunningham ended up flying into space only once, but it was his space flight in October 1968 that revived the Apollo program and paved the way. for NASA to put a man on the moon less than a year later. .

In low Earth orbit for more than 11 days, he and his teammates, Walter Schirra and Donn Eisele, also broadcast the first live television broadcast aboard a manned US spacecraft. After the first seven-minute broadcast, the trio “became known for their daily 10-minute TV shows from orbit in which they antics around, holding up funny signs and saying generally to educate television audiences on earth about space flight,” according to one New York Times story from 1987. They won a special Emmy for their broadcast after a successful plunge into the Atlantic.

The Apollo 7 mission comes just over 20 months after a cabin fire killed three astronauts during a launch maneuver test for Apollo 1, intended to be the program’s first crewed mission. Disaster will be at the forefront of astronauts’ minds, but the success of their mission has bolstered the agency’s shattered confidence, which sent Apollo 8 orbiting the moon in October. those 12 years.

Cunningham was designated as a lunar module pilot, despite the fact that Apollo 7 carried no lunar modules. “It turned out we didn’t have the lunar module in time,” Cunningham said. Spokesperson-Review End of August. “But I am still listed as a lunar module pilot. But basically what’s going on is, on board, we’re all experts in one way or another about spacecraft.”

The main objectives of the mission involve extensive testing of the capabilities of command and service modules. “We fixed a lot of things and were able to fly a much better spacecraft…” Cunningham told NASA in a 1999 interview for an oral history project. “The one we flew was almost perfect! I mean, it’s just—you can’t ask for better hardware the first time around.”

Three American astronauts Donn Eisele, Walter Cunningham and Walter Schirra pose for a photo in front of ‘Apollo 7’, in the United States, on October 11, 1968.

Keystone-France/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

But during the test, he was also drawn into escalating tensions between the crew and the mission controller, when Schirra – the mission commander – argued with Houston about the weather during the launch, staying awake. meals on board, bulky spacesuits, and whether or not a helmet is available. should be worn during reentry. (Worse, Schirra was also affected by the first cold wave in orbit.)

According to historians Francis French and Colin Burgess, after they were asked to take a particularly infuriating test, Eisele also expressed her frustration, angrily calling down mission control. service, “We really don’t get it… you bet your ass… as far as we know, someone down there royally screwed up when he placed the that up us.

Cunningham continued The Spokesperson-Review that the story of a space crew who nearly rebelled was exaggerated by the press. “We never thought about it as bad as the ground,” he said. “From our point of view on board, we felt like we had a good time.”

But possibly because of the conflict, Cunningham was never sent back. “I’m a bit disappointed,” he said, noting that he had been assigned to command another mission shortly before it was cancelled.

Born “the poorest man ever” in Creston, Iowa in 1932, as Cunningham recalls, one of his childhood dreams was to become a Navy pilot. He enlisted in the army in 1951 and flew 54 night sorties in Korea with the US Marines. After serving in the army, Cunningham went on to earn a master’s degree in physics from the University of California at Los Angeles.

“All I remember is like sticking my nose in the whetstone and wanting to do the best I can—I didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s because I always wanted to be better prepared for the next step,” explains Cunningham. enjoyed in the oral history interview. “I am always looking to the future.”

Despite his work in the scientific field, Cunningham was later known for challenging the mainstream consensus on climate change, denying that human activity contributed greatly to the warming of the Earth. planet.

After Apollo 7, Cunningham became the director of NASA’s Skylab branch, Cunningham. He left the company in 1971, becoming an entrepreneur, venture capitalist, lecturer and radio presenter.

He is survived by his wife, Dot, his sister, Cathy Cunningham, and his two children, Brian and Kimberley, from a previous marriage.


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