The late Apollo 7 pilot’s reach extended far beyond his 1968 launch into space, as astronauts came together to remember Walt Cunningham on Tuesday (Jan. 24).
group that participated in a panel discussion (opens in new tab) The funeral service was preceded by a more traditional funeral service at Houston First Baptist Church, attended by two of Cunningham’s Apollo colleagues and four NASA veterans who flew on the space shuttle and the International Space Station—the latter after Cunningham retired. They all said they were grateful for Cunningham’s friendship.
“Fred and I were in the same group that we call the ‘Original 19,’ and of course when we first arrived we met all the astronauts and Walt was one of them,” Apollo 16 moonwalker Charlie Duke Said, who was with Apollo 13. Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 1966, two years before Cunningham made his first and only flight.
Duke said, “He was a great friend, a great mentor and a great spokesperson for NASA. We truly miss him.”
Connected: Walter Cunningham: Apollo 7 Astronaut
Cunningham died on 3 January (opens in new tab) due to complications from a fall. He was 90 years old.
The Apollo 7 mission made history in more ways than one. It was the first American spacecraft to broadcast live television from space and the first time NASA launched a three-person crew (Cunningham’s crewmates, Wally Schirra and Don Eisel, died before their deaths). Most importantly, though, the mission was “101 percent successful”. (opens in new tab) Served as an important shakeout cruise for the Apollo Command Module, which had been redesigned after a test on the launchpad claimed the lives of the Apollo 1 crew.
“The first flight of a new spacecraft (opens in new tab) is always an important mission,” said George Abbey, who, as an engineer and then director, helped lead NASA’s efforts to land astronauts on the Moon. The key to allowing us to land on the Moon that We made it in July of 1969. It wouldn’t have happened without the success of that mission.”
“I will always have fond memories of Walt and his crew flying that flight,” Abbey said.
Bob Crippen did not go into space until the first space shuttle launch in 1981, but after being transferred to NASA in 1969 from the US Air Force’s canceled Manned Orbiting Laboratory program, he worked with Cunningham on the Apollo Applications Program (AAP). developed into the Skylab Orbital Workshop.
The first task Cunningham assigned to Crippen was to test the waste collection system for the new space station.
“They want to [the test] on a zero-g parabola on the KC-135 [aircraft] Wright at Patterson Air Force Base. Your job is to deliver ‘number two’ in a parabola, which is about 30 seconds,” Crippen recalled telling Cunningham. ‘Sir’ and went to Dayton, Ohio.”
“That morning, I woke up and had a big breakfast of steak and eggs, and I made the first delivery on Parabola. I was happy to come home and tell Walt, ‘Mission accomplished,'” he said with a big smile.
Journalist Melissa Jacobs, who moderated the panel, said, “I’m told Walt wanted it to be funny and laughable.”
Three other members of the panel became astronauts after Cunningham left NASA to become a businessman.
“I first met Walt when I was in middle school,” said Bernard Harris, who in 1995 became the first black astronaut to spacewalk on the second of his two Space Shuttle flights. “It wasn’t until maybe 20 or 30 years later that I really got to know Walt.”
“When I got out [of NASA] and decided I’m going to go into venture capital, I [thought] i can be the first [astronaut] To [do so], Well, it turns out that I wasn’t. Walt started his venture capital firm in 1982. After that he became my guru. That’s why I owe him a lot.”
Anna Fischer was one of the first six women to become NASA astronauts and the first mother to fly in space. Like Harris, she knew Cunningham after they both left the program.
He said, “I wish I would get a chance to work with him.” “He sounds like he would have been a great boss, but I’m glad it was never too late to be friends with this wonderful, very opinionated person who I really admired.”
As the only astronaut on the panel still on active flight duty with NASA, Randy Bresnik only got to know Cunningham relatively recently, but Cunningham drew parallels with what the space agency is doing.
“I think Walt’s spirit definitely lives on because we just had Artemis 1, the first uncrewed flight of the Artemis program. going to prepare like we did with Apollo 7,” Bresnik said. “And we’re not just putting them in low Earth orbit, we’re sending them to the Moon and back. All of this wouldn’t be possible without pioneers like Walt.”
“So Godspeed Walt Cunningham,” he said.
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