Last Apollo 7 astronaut Walter Cunningham dies aged 90

Space flight that paved way for Moon landings was first Nasa mission to broadcast live TV from orbit

Astronaut Walter Cunningham during the Apollo 7 mission in October 1968. Nasa / Reuters
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Walter Cunningham, the last surviving astronaut from the Apollo 7 crew that flew to space in 1968, has died at the age of 90.

Cunningham was part of Nasa's first successful crewed Apollo space mission, alongside Walter Schirra and Donn Eisele for the 11-day space flight conducted in low Earth orbit.

He was lunar module pilot on Apollo 7, although the mission was not to the Moon.

Cunningham died on Tuesday in Houston, Texas.

Command module pilot Eisele died in 1987 and mission commander Schirra, one of the original “Mercury Seven” astronauts, in 2007.

“Walt Cunningham was a fighter pilot, physicist and an entrepreneur — but, above all, he was an explorer,” said Nasa administrator Bill Nelson.

Apollo 7 marked the resumption of Nasa's lunar space flight programme on October 11, 1968.

It came 21 months after the fire that killed all three members of the Apollo 1 crew during a ground-based launch rehearsal in January 1967.

Apollo 7 astronaut Walter Cunningham speaking at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2014. AP

Cunningham also served in the US Navy and Marine Corps, flying 54 missions as a fighter pilot before retiring with the rank of colonel.

He was chosen by Nasa as an astronaut in 1963.

Apollo 7 was the first Nasa mission to broadcast live TV from orbit, including tense exchanges between ground control and astronauts who openly voiced annoyance with mission directors at times.

None of the three astronauts went to space again. Schirra, who had flown two previous Nasa missions, had already announced plans to retire.

After the mission, Cunningham was assigned to lead the Skylab branch, an early space station programme, under Nasa's flight crew directorate.

He retired from the space agency in 1971, becoming an investor and radio talk show host.

The Apollo 7 mission was considered a technical success.

It proved the capabilities and integrity of systems that would carry Apollo 11 to the lunar surface in July 1969 for the historic first Moon walks by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin.

Updated: January 04, 2023, 4:04 AM