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Iowa History Daily: March 16 - Walt Cunningham Flies High

Iowa History Daily: On March 16, 1932, Ronnie Walter “Walt” Cunningham was born in Creston.

From Creston, Iowa, to the cosmos, Cunningham went on to pilot the Apollo 7 Lunar Module, and joined NASA in October 1963 as the third civilian selected for the astronaut program.

Just a year removed from high school, Cunningham joined the United States Navy in 1951. In 1952, he started flight training before becoming an active duty fighter pilot of the United States Marine Corps in Korea from 1953 to 1956. Cunningham chose the Marines because he wanted to fly single-engine fighter planes, and he had the chance to fly 54 missions during the conflict, including many as a night fighter pilot. Following his service, he went on to earn Bachelors and Masters degrees in Physics from UCLA, and completed PhD coursework, as well.

Prior to the Apollo 1 tragedy February 21, 1967, saw the death of all crew members when a fire broke out during a launch rehearsal, NASA had Cunningham tabbed to fly on Apollo 2. However, following the disaster NASA spent 21 months sending unmanned missions into space. When the time came for a manned shakedown cruise around the Earth, Cunningham got another shot at space flight. A critical mission to the overall future of NASA given the previous year’s disaster, launched October 7, 1968 with Cunningham responsible for all spacecraft systems except launch and navigation. Eleven days after launching successfully from Cape Kennedy Air Force Station, the successful mission splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean. A pioneering success in many ways, the Apollo 7 flight transmitted the first live television broadcast from an American spacecraft and gave NASA the confidence to send Apollo 8 into orbit around the moon just two months later.

A recipient of the NASA Distinguished Service Medal and the NASA Exceptional Service medal, among many honors and accolades, Cunningham was inducted into the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame in 2003. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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