The San Diego Air & Space Museum is remembering Walt Cunningham, one of the first men to fly into space during the Apollo program and a member of the prestigious International Air & Space Hall of Fame. Cunningham passed away on January 3, 2023 at the age of 90.
Since 1963, the International Air & Space Hall of Fame has honored the world’s most significant pilots, crew members, visionaries, inventors, aerospace engineers, business leaders, preservationists, designers and space explorers. Cunningham was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame at the San Diego Air & Space Museum in 2011.
“Aviation and space exploration, as embodied by the honorees in the International Air & Space Hall of Fame, directly represents the human pioneering and exploring spirit. As part of the crew of Apollo 7 – the first manned mission to fly into space during the Apollo program – Walt Cunningham was an integral part of NASA’s successes and America’s efforts to put men on Moon,” said Jim Kidrick, President & CEO of the San Diego Air & Space Museum. “Walt Cunningham was not only a pioneering aviator, but also a true gentleman, a close personal friend and a good friend of the Museum. The San Diego Air & Space Museum mourns his loss while remembering him fondly for his contributions to America’s efforts to put men on the Moon and for his incredible achievements.”
A Marine Corps aviator, astronaut and author, Walter Cunningham enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1951. After receiving his pilot’s wings, Cunningham was commissioned in the Marine Corps. His long and distinguished Marine Corps career spanned 23 years, with both active and reserve duty. He accumulated more than 4,400 flight hours in more than 35 different aircraft.
Cunningham attended the University of California, Los Angeles, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics in 1960, and a Master of Science in Physics a year later. From 1960-1963 he worked for the Research and Development Corporation (RAND) as a physicist.
Cunningham joined NASA in 1963 to enter the astronaut program. He was only the third civilian astronaut at NASA. In October 1968, Cunningham journeyed into space during the Apollo 7 Mission, on which he orbited the earth for 11 days. Apollo 7 was the first manned mission of the Apollo program, and it marked the first time humans had flown on the Saturn rocket. The success of Apollo 7 was critical to the decision to send humans to the moon for the first time, on the next mission, Apollo 8, in December 1968.
Cunningham’s distinguished NASA career continued after the success of Apollo 7. From 1968-1971 he was the chief of the Skylab Branch of the Astronaut Office, overseeing many scientific experiments which helped the Skylab space station become such a great success.
Cunningham retired from NASA in 1971 then participated in various private industrial enterprises. He took his expansive knowledge to the airwaves, and to paper. He was the host of a radio show, “Lift Off to Logic,” and also formalized much of his experience with the space program in a book, “The All American Boys.”
Cunningham was a member of a large number of organizations, including the American Astronautical Society and the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, and has been awarded many distinguished honors, including both the NASA Exceptional Service Medal and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal.
The International Air & Space Hall of Fame is the most prestigious induction of its kind in the world and is composed of hundreds of air and space pioneers, engineers, inventors and innovators, along with adventurers, scientists and industry leaders. NASA Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronauts and Russian cosmonauts are honored in the Hall, as well as famous legends such as the Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Neil Armstrong and Amelia Earhart. Notable inductees also include Buzz Aldrin, Igor Sikorsky, Wernher von Braun, Jack Northrop, Jackie Cochran, William Boeing, Sr., Reuben H. Fleet, Glenn Curtiss, Walter Zable Sr., Fran Bera, Wally Schirra, Bill Anders, Jim Lovell, T. Claude Ryan, Jimmy Doolittle, Bob Hoover, Ellen Ochoa, Peggy Whitson, Linden Blue, Patty Wagstaff, and many more. See the following link: http://sandiegoairandspace.org/exhibits/online-exhibit-page/international-air-space-hall-of-fame.