On January 3rd, astronaut Walt Cunningham died, and I’ll admit that I didn’t know anything about him. I suspect that most people know of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin as they were the first people to walk on the moon in 1969. I certainly remember Armstrong’s famous line of taking “one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind.”
Buzz Aldrin wrote an Op-ed in The Washington Post this week about Walt Cunningham and I’m glad he did as I learned so much. He wrote “Walt, who dies at the age of 90, was the lunar module pilot for the Apollo 7, the first successful manned operation of the Apollo missions. Without that ‘perfect mission,’ our flight to the moon never would have happened.”
The Apollo 7 mission in October 1968 was so critical because it was the first manned flight after the tragedy of Apollo 1 in January 1967. Three astronauts died when the Apollo Command Module caught fire during a pre-flight test. Walt Cunningham was part of the backup crew on Apollo 1. The Apollo 7 crew was under tremendous pressure because of the tragedy and a restless American public anxious for the U.S. to get to the moon ahead of the Soviets. As Aldrin noted, “The mission had to be perfect – and it was.”
Aldrin notes “In a world of egos, Walt always had his in check. Walt’s other hallmark was gratitude, for everything - for the chance to fly for the Marines, for becoming an Apollo astronaut and for being able to serve the nation.” As is often the case, there is a large supporting cast to heroes like Aldrin and Armstrong. Without those people who came before them, many of our heroes would never have achieved their greatness. We should all be grateful for Walt Cunningham’s career serving our country and for who he was as a human. He set a great example for all of us to follow.
Take care and stay safe.
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