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Walter Cunningham, last surviving Apollo 7 astronaut, dies at age 90


Walter Cunningham, the last surviving astronaut from the first successful crewed space mission in Nasa’s Apollo program, has died. He was 90.

A Nasa spokesman, Bob Jacobs, confirmed Cunningham’s death but did not immediately provide further details. Cunningham’s wife, Dot Cunningham, said in a statement that he died on Tuesday but did not say where or provide a cause of death.

Cunningham was one of three astronauts aboard the 1968 Apollo 7 mission, an 11-day flight that beamed live broadcasts as it orbited Earth, paving the way for the moon landing less than a year later.

Cunningham, then a civilian, crewed the mission with US navy Capt Walter M Schirra and Donn F Eisele, a US air force major. Cunningham was the lunar module pilot on the space flight, which launched from the Cape Kennedy air force station in Florida on 11 October and splashed down in the Atlantic south of Bermuda.

Nasa said Cunningham, Eisele and Schirra flew a near-perfect mission. Their spacecraft performed so well that the agency sent the next crew, during the Apollo 8 mission, to orbit the moon as a prelude to the Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969.

The Apollo 7 astronauts won a special Emmy award for their daily television reports from orbit, during which they clowned around, held humorous signs and educated earthlings about space flight.

It was Nasa’s first crewed space mission since the deaths of the three Apollo 1 astronauts in a launchpad fire on 27 January 1967.

Cunningham recalled the Apollo 7 mission during a 2017 event at the Kennedy Space Center, saying it “enabled us to overcome all the obstacles we had after the Apollo 1 fire and it became the longest, most successful test flight of any flying machine ever”.

Cunningham was born in Creston, Iowa, and attended high school in California before enlisting with the navy in 1951 and serving as a marine corps pilot in Korea, according to Nasa.

He obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics from the University of California, Los Angeles, where he also did doctoral studies, and worked as scientist for the Rand Corporation before joining Nasa.

In an interview a year before his death, Cunningham recalled growing up poor and dreaming of flying planes, not spacecraft.

“We never even knew that there were astronauts when I was growing up,” Cunningham told the Spokesman-Review.

After his career with Nasa, Cunningham worked in engineering, business and investing and became a public speaker and radio host. He wrote a memoir about his career and time as an astronaut, The All-American Boys.

Although Cunningham never crewed another space mission, he remained a proponent of space exploration. He told the Spokane, Washington, paper last year: “I think that humans need to continue expanding and pushing out the levels at which they’re surviving in space.”

Cunningham is survived by his wife, his sister Cathy Cunningham and his children Brian and Kimberly.



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