Walter Cunningham March 16, 1932 – January 3, 2023
A NASA portrait of Walt Cunningham holding a model of the Apollo Command Module (CM) and rocket escape tower, 10 Sept. 1964. (NASA photo S64-31816).
Walt was forever the Marine, with his boots firmly planted in night fighter combat during the Korean War. He nonetheless filled a special place in the Astronaut Corps as a member of the third group of astronauts selected in 1963. His first mission assignment was on the Backup Crew for Apollo 1. After the tragic fire that took the lives of the Apollo 1 Prime Crew, his Backup Crew was assigned to fly Apollo 7, a test of the revised Command and Service Module. The success of his Apollo 7 mission set the table for Apollo 8 and kept up the momentum of Apollo so that President Kennedy’s Cold War challenge could be met with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s landing on the Moon barely eight months after Apollo 7’s splashdown. And if that were not enough, Walt served as the Astronaut Office’s primary representative in the planning and operations for mission in the Skylab Program that laid the foundations for long duration Earth-orbital space flight now a reality with the International Space Station. What a career to have lived through!
The Apollo 7 Crew (left-to-right): Donn F. Eisele (CMP); Wally Schirra (CDR); and Walt Cunningham (LMP) at the entrance hatch of the Apollo 7 CM. (NASA photo S68-33744).
Walt in orbit during the Apollo 7 mission on Oct. 20, 1968. (NASA photo AS7-04-1586).
When I arrived in Houston in 1966, fresh out of pilot training, Walt was deep into training for Apollo 1 and Apollo 7 while I was fully occupied with planning and crew training related to Apollo 8 and Apollos 10-13. After that I had my own Backup Crew assignment. Walt and I actually saw more of each other after Apollo than during, as we were together at many space events. Walt was truly, as he titled his book, one of “The All- American Boys.”
Copyright © by Harrison H. Schmitt, 2023, All rights reserved.