Last surviving astronaut of Apollo 7 mission Walter Cunningham dies at age 90

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Walter Cunningham, a US astronaut and final surviving member of the first NASA mission to transmit live TV from orbit, died on Tuesday at the age of 90, NASA confirmed.

The Apollo 7 was a manned mission that lasted for 11 days in 1968 and was designed to test the ability to dock and rendezvous in space. The mission’s crew won an Emmy award for their live broadcast.

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The mission laid the foundation for the Apollo 11 moon landing, which occurred less than a year later.

“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,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement on Tuesday.

“NASA will always remember his contributions to our nation’s space program and sends our condolences to the Cunningham family.”

“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,” his family said in a statement.

Born in 1932, Cunningham spent most of his life in Venice, California before going on to receive a Bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1960 and a Masters in physics at the same university a year later. 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.

In 1951, he enlisted in the Navy and served in the US Marine Corps until his retirement as a colonel. During the Korean War, he flew 54 missions as a night fighter pilot.

After his military service, he spent three years working as a scientist at the Rand Corporation, where he was involved in classified defense studies and research related to the Earth’s magnetosphere. Throughout his career, Cunningham accumulated over 4,500 hours of flying time in 40 different aircraft, with more than 3,400 hours in jets.

Cunningham was chosen to be an astronaut in 1963 as part of NASA's third group of astronaut candidates.

Cunningham’s final role at NASA Johnson was serving as Chief of the Skylab branch of the Flight Crew Directorate, where he oversaw the operational aspects of five major pieces of manned space hardware, two different launch vehicles, and 56 major experiments as part of the Skylab Program.

After retiring from NASA in 1971, he held senior leadership positions at several technical and financial organizations, including Century Development Corp., Hydrotech

Development Company, and 3D International. In addition to his professional pursuits, Cunningham also worked as an investor, entrepreneur, and radio talk show host.

He received numerous awards, including the NASA Exceptional Service Medal and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, and was inducted into several halls of fame, including the Astronaut Hall of Fame, the International Space Hall of Fame, and the San Diego Air and Space Museum Hall of Fame.

The Apollo 7 crew, including Cunningham, was also presented with an Emmy in the form of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Special Trustee Award.

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