NASA's Last Apollo 7 Astronaut Dies at 90

On Tuesday, NASA announced that Walter Cunningham, the last surviving astronaut from its first successful Apollo 7 mission, has died at the age of 90. According to Cunningham's family, he died “from complications of a fall."

NASA's Last Apollo 7 Astronaut Dies at 90
Image credit: NASA/Getty Images [via NBC News]

Facts

  • On Tuesday, NASA announced that Walter Cunningham, the last surviving astronaut from its first successful Apollo 7 mission, has died at the age of 90. According to Cunningham's family, he died “from complications of a fall."
  • The 1968 Apollo 7 mission was an 11-day space flight designed to test the ability of the spacecraft to dock and rendezvous in space.
  • The mission gained nationwide notoriety, with the crew winning an Emmy for the first televised broadcast from orbit, paving the way for Apollo 11's moon landing less than a year later.
  • Cunningham, selected in 1963, was one of the earliest members of the Apollo program and had been scheduled to serve on the Apollo 2 before its cancellation. A lunar module pilot at the time of the Apollo 7 mission, he was joined by Navy Capt. Walter Schirra and Air Force Major Donn Eisele.
  • Cunningham wrote about the mission in his 1977 memoir, "The All-American Boys," saying, "we carried the nation's hope with us."
  • After leaving NASA, Cunningham entered the private sector holding positions as an executive and consultant. He also worked as a radio talk show host, entrepreneur, and inventor.

Sources: NBC, BBC News, FOX News, New York Times, and CNN.

Narratives

  • Narrative A, as provided by New Atlas. Although the Apollo 7 mission was designed to test the abilities of the Command Service Module (CSM), the mission served a much greater and more immediate social purpose. At the time of the launch, NASA was suffering from low morale amid concerns about the agency's viability and its mission. The success of the flight crew saved the Apollo program — which would see a lunar landing in less than a year — and their efforts will have a lasting impact on human space exploration.
  • Narrative B, as provided by Inverse. While NASA's Apollo missions undoubtedly took considerable strides in the race to conquest outer space, the technological landscape has changed, and it's time NASA does too. Sending humans into space — as the agency's latest Artemis mission intends to continue — is not only a massive expenditure, but it also carries significant risk. With viable alternatives, such as robotic exploration, it may be time to close the chapter on another human moon landing.

Predictions