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Walter Cunningham, a retired NASA astronaut and pilot of the first manned flight in the space agency’s famed Apollo program, died early Tuesday morning at the age of 90, NASA said.
Cunningham was one of the first members of NASA’s human development program as a member of the third astronaut class, joining the space agency in 1963. He was selected to pilot Apollo 7, the first mission of the NASA program that carried humans to earth. first moon
“We would like to express our immense pride in the life he lived, and our gratitude for the man he was – a great lover, explorer, pilot, astronaut, husband, brother, and father,” the Cunningham family noted. NASA joint statement. “The world has lost another true hero, and we will miss our dear ones.”
The Apollo 7 mission was launched in 1968 and lasted about 11 days, sending crews on a journey into orbit on a test flight that could demonstrate the Apollo capsule’s ability to eat with another spacecraft in orbit and pave the way for future deeper exploration. room It is also notable for featuring in the first live American TV broadcast from space, according to NASA.
Cunningham was the last surviving member of Apollo 7, which also included astronauts Wally Schirra and Donn Eisele.
Born in Creston, Iowa, and receiving a bachelor’s degree in physics and a master’s with honors in physics from the University of California at Los Angeles, Cunningham was 36 years old when the Apollo 7 mission was launched. In a 1999 interview with NASA’s Oral History Office, he reflected on his career path and motivations.
“I’m one of those people who never really looked back. I only remember when someone asked me after I became an astronaut,” Cunningham said. I always wanted to be prepared for the next step. I always looked to the future. I don’t live in the past.”
Although he only ventured into outer space once, Cunningham went on to serve as a leader in NASA’s Skylab program, the United States’ first space station to orbit Earth from 1973 to 1979.
Before joining NASA, Cunningham had enlisted in the Navy and began pilot training in 1952, according to his official NASA biography, and served as a fighter pilot with the U.S. Marine Corps on 54 missions in Korea.
“The only thing I can ever remember specifically about becoming an astronaut is that I looked at it because I became one of, if not the best, fighter pilot in the world,” Cunningham said in an interview with NASA’s Oral History Office.
Cunningham also completed a doctorate in physics at UCLA without completing a thesis, and later in 1974 completed an advanced management program at the Harvard Graduate School of Business, according to NASA.
He worked as a physicist at the Rand Corporation, a military non-profit designing a tank, before joining the astronaut corps.
In the interim, Cunningham wore many hats, taking on a variety of roles in the private sector. According to his NASA biography, he served in a number of executive positions in development companies, worked as a consultant for projects, became an entrepreneur and investor, and finally became a radio host.
In recent years, Cunningham has become an even more outspoken critic of prevailing beliefs about human-induced climate change.
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