The 11-day Apollo 7 mission paved the way for humans to land on the moon for the first time.
The last surviving NASA astronaut from the 1968 Apollo 7 mission, Walter Cunningham, died on January 3 in Houston at the age of 90. Apollo 7 was the first flight with the crew in NASA’s Apollo Program and lasted 11 days. The historic mission paved the way to land humans on the moon for the first time. Mankind's first moon landing took place less than a year later with Apollo 11.
NASA confirmed Cunningham's death with a press release that included a statement from NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. "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," the statement said. "NASA will always remember his contributions to our nation’s space program and sends our condolences to the Cunningham family."
Last surviving Apollo 7 astronaut Walter Cunningham dead at 90 https://t.co/ruwtbfBpan via @nypost— Mr. Gray ⛽️ (@ADVT700) January 4, 2023
The late astronaut's family also issued a statement expressing their "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.”
Born on March 16, 1932, in Creston, Iowa, Cunningham received a Bachelor of Arts with honors in physics in 1960 and a Master of Arts with distinction in physics in 1961 from the University of California at Los Angeles. In 1963, he was selected as an astronaut as part of NASA's third astronaut class. Cunningham then went on to complete a doctorate in physics with exception of thesis at the Advanced Management Program in the Harvard Graduate School of Business in 1974.
He also joined the Navy and took on active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps in 1951 before working his way up to serve in the rank of colonel by the time he retired. Other titles he's worked for include being a night fighter pilot in Korea and a scientist for the Rand Corporation. He also accumulated more than 4,500 hours of flying time in 40 different aircraft. He retired from NASA in 1971 and worked in the private sector as an executive, consultant entrepreneur, and radio talk show host to name a few of his titles.
Sharing the inspirations behind his career, he told NASA's Oral History Office in 1999: "I'm one of those people that never really looked back. I only recall that when someone asked me after I became an astronaut. All I remember is just kind of keeping my nose to the grindstone and wanting to do the best I could as—I didn't realize at the time, but that was because I always wanted to be better prepared for the next step. I've always been looking to the future. I don't live in the past."
I’ve lost a good friend with Walt Cunningham passing. America and Apollo 11 wouldn’t have gotten to the moon without Walt’s courage and Apollo 7. Their mission made possible every other Apollo mission. He is the definition of an American hero, a man of enormous heart. pic.twitter.com/eKQlqpNBfR— Dr. Buzz Aldrin (@TheRealBuzz) January 3, 2023