Former astronaut Walter Cunningham, who flew into space on Apollo 7, the first flight with crew in NASA’s Apollo Program, died early Tuesday morning 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 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.”
Cunningham was born March 16, 1932, in Creston, Iowa. He graduated from Venice High School, in Venice, California, before going on to receive 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. 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.
The Cunningham family offered the following statement: “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.”
He joined the Navy in 1951 and served on active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps, retiring with 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 defense 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.