Ronnie Walter Cunningham
March 16, 1932
Creston, Iowa, U.S.
|Died||January 3, 2023 (aged 90)|
|Resting place||Texas State Cemetery Austin, Texas, U.S.|
|Rank||Colonel, United States Marine Corps Reserve|
Time in space
|10d 20h 08m|
|Selection||1963 NASA Group 3|
|Retirement||August 1, 1971|
Ronnie Walter Cunningham (March 16, 1932 – January 3, 2023) was an American astronaut, fighter pilot, physicist, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and author of the 1977 book The All-American Boys. NASA's third civilian astronaut (after Neil Armstrong and Elliot See), he was a lunar module pilot on the Apollo 7 mission in 1968.
Early life, education and military career
After graduating from high school, Cunningham studied at Santa Monica College until joining the U.S. Navy in 1951. He began flight training in 1952 and served on active duty as a fighter pilot with the U.S. Marine Corps from 1953 until 1956, flying 54 missions as a night fighter pilot in Korea. Armistice discussions were still ongoing when Cunningham initially left for Korea, and the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed just before he arrived. From 1956 to 1975, he served in the United States Marine Corps Reserve, ultimately retiring at the rank of colonel.
Cunningham married the former Lo Ella Irby of Norwalk, California, and had two children, Brian and Kimberley. Walter and Lo Ella eventually divorced. In addition to his sister and his children, he was survived by his second wife, retired Houston businesswoman Dorothy "Dot" Cunningham.
Upon completing his service obligation, Cunningham resumed his studies at Santa Monica College before transferring to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1958. Cunningham received his Bachelor of Arts degree with honors in 1960, and his Master of Arts degree with distinction in 1961, both in physics, from UCLA. He completed all requirements save for the dissertation for a Doctor of Philosophy degree in physics at UCLA during his time at RAND Corporation, where he spent three years prior to his NASA selection.
In October 1963, Cunningham was one of the third group of astronauts selected by NASA. On October 11, 1968, he occupied the Lunar Module Pilot seat for the eleven-day flight of Apollo 7, the first launch of a crewed Apollo mission. The flight carried no Lunar Module and Cunningham was responsible for all spacecraft systems except launch and navigation. The crew kept busy with myriad system tests, including successfully completed test firing of the service module engine and measuring the accuracy of the spacecraft systems. Following the mission, Cunningham went on to head up the Skylab branch of the Flight Crew Directorate and left NASA in 1971.
In 1974, Cunningham attended Harvard Business School's six-week Advanced Management Program and later worked as a businessman and investor in a number of private ventures. In 1977, he published The All-American Boys, a reminiscence of his astronaut days. He was also a major contributor to and foreword writer for the 2007 space history book In the Shadow of the Moon. In 2018, Cunningham joined the Back to Space organization as an Astronaut Consultant with the goal of inspiring the next generation to go to Mars.
In 2008, NASA awarded Cunningham the NASA Distinguished Service Medal for his Apollo 7 mission. He became a radio talk-show host and public speaker, worked as a consultant to start-up technology companies, and was chairman of the Texas Aerospace Commission.
Global warming views
Cunningham rejected the scientific consensus on climate change. His biography page at the CO2 Coalition said "Since 2000, he has been writing and speaking out on the hoax that humans are controlling the temperature of the earth."
In 2010, Cunningham published a short book titled "Global Warming: Facts versus Faith". In an editorial published in the Houston Chronicle on August 15, 2010, Cunningham claimed that the empirical evidence did not support global warming. In 2012, he and other former astronauts and NASA employees sent a critical letter to the agency highlighting what they believed to be "unproven assertions that man-made carbon dioxide was a major factor in global warming."
Cunningham was an associate fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, fellow of the American Astronautical Society, and member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, American Geophysical Union, Explorers Club, Sigma Pi Sigma and Sigma Xi, Association of Space Explorers, CO2 Coalition, Houston American Revolution Bicentennial Commission, Aviation Subcommittee, Houston Chamber of Commerce, Earth Awareness Foundation, and National Association of Small Business Investment Companies.
Awards and honors
Cunningham was a recipient of numerous national and international honors, including:
- NASA Distinguished Service Medal
- NASA Exceptional Service Medal
- AIAA Haley Astronautics Award, 1969
- UCLA Professional Achievement Award, 1969
- Special Trustees Award, National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (Emmy Award), 1969
- Medal of Valor, American Legion, 1975
- Outstanding American Award, American Conservative Union, 1975
- Listed in Who's Who
- George Haddaway Award, 2000
- Houston Hall of Fame
- International Space Hall of Fame, inducted in 1983
- U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, inducted in 1997
- Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame, inducted in 2003
- International Air & Space Hall of Fame, San Diego Air & Space Museum, inducted in 2011.
- National Aviation Hall of Fame, Inducted in 2018.
In popular culture
- "Biographical Data: Walter Cunningham NASA ASTRONAUT (FORMER)" (PDF). NASA. July 2014. Retrieved January 16, 2021.
- Walter Cunningham ~ 1950
- Famous SMC Alumni Set Forth a Path of Excellence to Follow
- Interview at USC Institute for Creative Technologies, June 21, 2018
- Goldstein, Richard (January 4, 2023). "Walter Cunningham, Who Helped Pave the Way to the Moon, Dies at 90". The New York Times.
- "Dot Cunningham says be an Angel charity touched her heartstrings". December 23, 2011.
- "Ronnie W. Cunningham". New Mexico Museum of Space History. Retrieved January 10, 2023.
- Wade, Mark. "Apollo 7". Encyclopedia Astronautica. Archived from the original on October 12, 2008. Retrieved December 16, 2016.
- Cunningham, Walter; Herskowitz, Mickey (1977). The All-American Boys. New York: Macmillan Co. ISBN 9780025292406.
- "In the Shadow of the Moon". University of Nebraska Press. Retrieved December 16, 2016.
- "Back To Space | The Team". Back To Space. February 5, 2018. Retrieved July 24, 2018.
- "First Apollo flight crew last to be honored". collectSPACE. October 20, 2008. Retrieved October 20, 2008.
- Lewis, Russell (January 3, 2023). "NASA Apollo astronaut Walt Cunningham has died at age 90". NPR. Retrieved January 3, 2023.
- Stuckey, Alex; Leinfelder, Andrea (January 3, 2023). "Houstonian Walt Cunningham, astronaut on first crewed Apollo flight, dies at 90". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved January 3, 2023.
- "CO2 Coalition Members: Col. Walter Cunningham". CO2 Coalition. Archived from the original on February 13, 2023.
- Cunninham, Walter (2010). Global Warming: Facts versus Faith (PDF). Heartland Institute. ISBN 978-1-934791-30-1.
- Cunningham, Walter (August 15, 2010). "Climate change alarmists ignore scientific methods". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved April 3, 2012.
- Goldstein, Richard (January 4, 2023). "Walter Cunningham, Who Helped Pave the Way to the Moon, Dies at 90". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 4, 2023.
- "Walter Cunningham's memberships". Walter Cunningham. Retrieved December 14, 2016.
- "Col. Walter Cunningham". CO2 Coalition. Retrieved January 6, 2023.
- "'Feisty' Schirra Apologizes". The San Francisco Examiner. November 3, 1968. p. 28 – via Newspapers.com.
- Sheppard, David (October 2, 1983). "Space Hall Inducts 14 Apollo Program Astronauts". El Paso Times. El Paso, Texas. p. 18 – via Newspapers.com.
- Meyer, Marilyn (October 2, 1997). "Ceremony to Honor Astronauts". Florida Today. Cocoa, Florida. p. 2B – via Newspapers.com.
- "Enshrinee Walter Cunningham". nationalaviation.org. National Aviation Hall of Fame. Retrieved February 1, 2023.
- Cunningham, Walter (1977). The All-American Boys. MacMillan Publishing Company. ISBN 0-02-529240-4.
- French, Francis; Burgess, Colin (September 2007). In the Shadow of the Moon: A Challenging Journey to Tranquility, 1965–1969. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0-8032-1128-5.