Former astronaut Walter Cunningham, who flew to space aboard Apollo 7 in 1968, part of the first crewed Apollo mission paving the way for 12 others to land on the moon in subsequent years, died on Tuesday at age 90, NASA said.
Cunningham joined crewmates Walter Schirra and Donn Eisele for the successful 11-day mission, which was conducted in low-Earth orbit as the first human test flight of the new Apollo spacecraft that would later venture to the moon.
Apollo 7 marked the resumption of NASA’s lunar spaceflight program 31 months after the fire that killed all three members of the Apollo 1 crew during a ground-based launch rehearsal in late January 1967.
Cunningham, who served in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, flying 54 missions as a fighter pilot before retiring with the rank of colonel, was selected as an astronaut in 1963 as part of NASA’s third astronaut class, the space agency said.
“Walt Cunningham was a fighter pilot, physicist, and an entrepreneur – but, above all, he was an explorer,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement announcing his death.