Apollo 7 astronaut dies at 90
US astronaut Walter Cunningham, who took part in NASA’s landmark Apollo 7 mission in 1968, has died at the age of 90.
The space explorer passed away on Tuesday, his wife Dot Cunningham announced, without revealing the cause of death or where it happened.
Together with Walter M. Schirra, and Donn F. Eisele, Cunningham was a member of the Apollo 7 mission, which became NASA’s first crewed space flight following the deaths of the three Apollo 1 astronauts in a launchpad fire in 1967.
The Apollo 7 mission orbited Earth for eleven days between October 11 and 22, 1968, its objective being to test the ability to dock and rendezvous in space. Cunningham’s job on the crew was lunar module pilot.
The mission turned out to be a complete success for the US space agency, paving the way for the Moon landing less than a year later, in July 1969.
The Apollo 7 flight also made history as the first NASA mission to broadcast live TV from orbit. The three crew members went on air every day, not only educating the audience about space, but also fooling around and cracking jokes.
After returning to Earth, the astronauts received special Emmy awards for their broadcast.
It was Cunningham’s only space flight, who went on to work in engineering, business and investing after leaving NASA. However, he kept promoting space exploration as a public speaker.
“I think that humans need to continue expanding and pushing out the levels at which they’re surviving in space,” he said in one of his last interviews in 2022.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson described Cunningham as “a fighter pilot, physicist, and an entrepreneur – but, above all, he was an explorer.” Along with his crewmates, who have all also passed away, he “made history, paving the way for the Artemis Generation we see today,” Nelson said, adding that Cunningham’s contribution would always be remembered.