Walter Cunningham, last surviving Apollo 7 astronaut, dies at 90: ‘True hero’

NASA astronaut Walter Cunningham, Apollo 7 lunar module pilot, is photographed during the Apollo 7 mission. Credits: NASA

NASA astronaut Walter Cunningham, Apollo 7 lunar module pilot, is photographed during the Apollo 7 mission. Credits: NASA

NASA

The last surviving NASA astronaut from the 1968 Apollo 7 mission, Walter Cunningham, has died. He was 90 years old.

Cunningham died Tuesday morning in Houston, NASA confirmed.

“NASA will always remember his contributions to our nation’s space program and sends its condolences to the Cunningham family,” said space agency administrator Bill Nelson in a statement announcing the news.

Cunningham’s family also honored the late astronaut after his death, expressing “tremendous pride in the life he led and our deep appreciation for the man he was – patriot, explorer, pilot, astronaut, husband, brother and father.”

“The world has lost another true hero and we will miss him greatly.”

Apollo 7 astronauts, (L-R) Walter Cunningham, Donn Eisele and Walter Schirra, at Cape Kennedy.  (Photo: Al Fenn/Getty Images)

Apollo 7 astronauts, (L-R) Walter Cunningham, Donn Eisele and Walter Schirra, at Cape Kennedy. (Photo: Al Fenn/Getty Images)

Al Fenn/Getty Apollo 7 astronauts, (L-R) Walter Cunningham, Donn Eisele and Walter Schirra

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One of three astronauts aboard the first successful crewed space mission, Cunningham first joined NASA in 1963. Cunningham enlisted in the program as a then-civilian along with U.S. Navy Captain Walter M. Schirra Jr. and US Air Force Major Donn F. Eisele. The famous Apollo 7 mission, which took place about 11 days later, paved the way for the first manned landing on the moon.

Born on March 16, 1932 in Creston, Iowa, Cunningham graduated from high school at Venice High School in California. He later graduated from the University of California with a Bachelor of Arts with Honors in Physics in 1960 and a Master of Arts with Honors in Physics in 1961. Several years later, in 1974, he earned a PhD in Physics with the exception of a thesis in Advanced Management program at the Harvard Graduate School of Business.

LAS VEGAS - JANUARY 08: Retired astronaut Walt Cunningham arrives at Canon USA and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children 11th Annual Customer Recognition of Canon USA Red Carpet Reception at the Bellagio Hotel on January 8, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo: David Becker/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS – JANUARY 8: Retired astronaut Walt Cunningham arrives at Canon USA and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s 11th Annual Customer Appreciation Canon USA Red Carpet Reception at the Bellagio on January 8, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo: David Becker/Getty Images)

David Becker/Getty

In 1951, Cunningham joined the Navy and took active duty in the United States Marine Corps before retiring to serve with the rank of colonel. In addition to being a scientist, he also worked as a night fighter pilot in Korea and accumulated over 4,500 flying hours before joining NASA. According to the agency, he was selected as an astronaut in 1963 as part of NASA’s third class of astronauts.

Cunningham and other members of the Apollo 7 mission won a special Emmy Award for Daily Reports from Space. He left NASA in 1971 and held various roles in the private sector, including executive director, business consultant and radio talk show host.

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In an interview with NASA’s Office of Oral History in 1999, Cunningham discussed his inspirations for his career path.

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“I’m one of those people who never really looked back. All I remember is that someone asked me when I became an astronaut,” Cunningham said at the time.

“All I remember is just sticking my nose to the grindstone and wanting to do my best because – I didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s because I always wanted to be better prepared for the next step. “I have always looked to the future. I don’t live in the past.”

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