Astronaut Walter Cunningham; The Apollo Man


Former astronaut Walter Cunningham, who is best remembered for flying the Apollo 7 mission in October 1968 and second American civilian to fly in space, died on january 3, 2022 in Houston. He was 90 years old.


“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 crew mates 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.”

“On behalf of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, we are beholden to Walt’s service to our nation and dedication to the advancement of human space exploration,” said Vanessa Wyche , center director. “Walt’s accomplished legacy will continue to serve as an inspiration to us all.”


Cunningham was born March 16, 1932, in Creston, Iowa. He graduated from Venice High School, in Venice, California. He then got a Bachelor of Arts with honors in physics in 1960 and a Master of Arts with distinction in physics in 1961 from theUniversity of California, Los Angeles. He then completed a doctorate in physics with exception of thesis at the Advanced Management Program in the Harvard Graduate School of Business in 1974.

He joined the Navy in 1951 and served on active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps. He retired in the rank of colonel. He flew 54 missions as a night fighter pilot in Korea. He worked as a scientist for the Rand Corporation for three years. While with Rand, he worked on classified defence studies and problems related to the Earth’s magnetosphere. Cunningham has accumulated more than 4,500 hours of flying time in 40 different aircraft, including more than 3,400 in jet aircraft.

Cunningham was selected as an astronaut in 1963 as part of NASA’s third astronaut class.

Prior to his assignment to the Apollo 7 crew, Cunningham was on the prime crew for Apollo 2 until it was cancelled and the backup lunar module pilot for Apollo 1.

Cunningham was designated the lunar module pilot for the 11-day flight of Apollo 7, which launched on Oct. 11, 1968, and was the first human flight test of the Apollo spacecraft. With Walter M. Schirra, Jr. and Donn F. Eisele, he tested maneuvers necessary for docking and lunar orbit rendezvous using the second stage of their Saturn IB rocket. The crew successfully completed eight tests, igniting the service module engine, measuring the accuracy of performance of all spacecraft systems, and providing the first live television transmission of onboard crew activities. The 263-hour, 4.5-million-mile flight splashed down Oct. 22, 1968, in the Atlantic Ocean.


Cunningham’s last assignment at NASA Johnson was chief of the Skylab branch of the Flight Crew Directorate. In this capacity, he was responsible for the operational inputs for five major pieces of manned space hardware, two different launch vehicles and 56 major experiments that comprised the Skylab Program.

Cunningham retired from NASA in 1971. He served in senior leadership roles with Century Development Corp., Hydrotech Development Company, and 3D International. Cunningham also was a longtime investor and entrepreneur, organizing small businesses and private investment firms. He also was a frequent keynote speaker and radio talk show host.


His numerous awards include the NASA Exceptional Service Medal and NASA Distinguished Service Medal. For his service he was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame, International Space Hall of Fame, Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame, San Diego Air and Space Museum Hall of Fame, and Houston Hall of Fame. Cunningham and the Apollo 7 crew also earned an Emmy in the form of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Special Trustee Award.

Sourced from NASA website


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