Judging simply by the astronauts who got here collectively to recollect Walt Cunningham on Tuesday (Jan. 24), the late Apollo 7 pilot’s attain prolonged far past his 1968 launch into area.
The group, who took half in a panel dialogue (opens in new tab) earlier than a extra conventional funeral service at Houston First Baptist Church, included two of Cunningham’s fellow Apollo colleagues and 4 NASA veterans who flew on the area shuttle and Worldwide Area Station — the latter effectively after Cunningham had retired. All of them mentioned they have been grateful for Cunningham’ friendship.
“Fred and I have been in the identical group of what we referred to as the ‘Unique 19,’ and naturally we met all of the astronauts once we first arrived and Walt was one in every of them,” mentioned Apollo 16 moonwalker Charlie Duke, who with Apollo 13 lunar module pilot Fred Haise, joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 1966, two years earlier than Cunningham made his first and solely flight.
“He was an important buddy, an important mentor and nice spokesman for NASA all through the years. We actually miss him,” mentioned Duke.
Associated: Walter Cunningham: Apollo 7 astronaut
Cunningham died on Jan. 3 (opens in new tab) resulting from problems from a fall. He was 90.
The Apollo 7 mission made historical past in plenty of methods. It was the primary U.S. spaceflight to broadcast dwell tv from area and it was the primary time NASA launched a three-person crew (Cunningham’s crewmates, Wally Schirra and Donn Eisele, preceded him in dying). Most significantly, although, the “101-percent profitable” mission (opens in new tab) served as a crucial shakeout cruise for the Apollo command module, which was redesigned after a hearth claimed the lives of the Apollo 1 crew throughout a take a look at on the launchpad.
“The primary flight of a brand new spacecraft (opens in new tab) is all the time a crucial mission,” mentioned George Abbey, who as an engineer after which director, helped lead NASA’s efforts to land astronauts on the moon. “In the event you take a look at the contribution that Walt and his teammates made on Apollo 7, it was actually the important thing to permitting us to make the lunar touchdown that we made in July of 1969. It would not have occurred with out the success of that mission.”
“I’ll all the time have recollections of Walt and his crew flying that flight,” mentioned Abbey.
Bob Crippen didn’t fly into area till the primary launch of the area shuttle in 1981, however having transferred to NASA from the U.S. Air Drive’s cancelled Manned Orbiting Laboratory program in 1969, he labored with Cunningham on the Apollo Functions Program (AAP), which advanced into the Skylab orbital workshop.
One of many first duties that Cunningham assigned Crippen to do was take a look at the waste assortment system for the brand new area station.
“They wish to do [the test] on a zero-g parabola on the KC-135 [aircraft] at Wright Patterson Air Drive Base. Your process is to go ship a ‘quantity two’ in a single parabola, which is about 30 seconds,” Crippen recalled Cunningham telling him. “Being the brand new man you do not flip down a job and so I mentioned, ‘Aye, aye sir’ and went to Dayton, Ohio.”
“That morning, I bought up and had a giant breakfast of steak and eggs, and I delivered on the primary parabola. I used to be joyful to return house and inform Walt, ‘mission completed,'” he mentioned with a giant smile.
“I’m instructed that Walt wished this to be enjoyable and to snigger,” journalist Melissa Jacobs, who moderated the panel, mentioned.
The three different members of the panel turned astronauts after Cunningham had left NASA to change into a businessman.
“I first met Walt once I was in center college,” mentioned Bernard Harris, who in 1995 turned the primary Black astronaut to carry out a spacewalk on the second of his two area shuttle flights. “It wasn’t till in all probability 20 or 30 years later that I really bought to know Walt.”
“After I bought out [of NASA] and determined I used to be going to enter enterprise capital, I [thought] I might be the primary [astronaut] to [do so]. Nicely, it seems I wasn’t. Walt began his enterprise capital agency in 1982. He then turned my mentor. So I owe him rather a lot.”
Anna Fisher was one of many first six girls to change into a NASA astronaut and was the primary mom to fly into area. Like Harris, she bought to know Cunningham lengthy after that they had each left this system.
“I want I had an opportunity to work with him,” she mentioned. “He appears like he would have been an important boss, however I am glad that it was higher late than by no means to have a friendship with this superb, very opinionated particular person, who I actually really admired.”
As the one astronaut on the panel nonetheless on energetic flight obligation with NASA, Randy Bresnik solely bought to know Cunningham comparatively not too long ago, however drew parallels in what Cunningham achieved with what the area company is doing now.
“I prefer to assume that Walt’s spirit actually lives on as we simply had Artemis 1, the primary uncrewed flight of the Artemis program. The very subsequent flight, ideally in two years from now, we’ll put folks on, identical to we did with Apollo 7,” mentioned Bresnik. “And we’re not simply conserving them in low Earth orbit, we’re sending them to the moon and again. All of that might not be doable with out pioneers like Walt.”
“So Godspeed Walt Cunningham,” he mentioned.
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