Ronnie Walter Cunningham: An American Astronaut and More
Ronnie Walter Cunningham, a man of many talents and accomplishments, made significant contributions to various fields during his lifetime. Born on March 16, 1932, he led a remarkable life filled with achievements in astronautics, education, business, and writing. His passing on January 3, 2023, marked the end of an era, but his legacy lives on.
Early Life and Military Service
Ronnie Cunningham’s journey began in Creston, Iowa, where he was born. He completed his high school education at Venice High School in Los Angeles, California, in 1950. After high school, he pursued further education at Santa Monica College before embarking on a new path by joining the U.S. Navy in 1951.
His military career saw him undergo flight training in 1952, eventually leading to his service as a fighter pilot with the U.S. Marine Corps from 1953 to 1956. During his time as a night fighter pilot in Korea, he completed an impressive 54 missions. Cunningham’s service coincided with the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement, marking the end of hostilities in the Korean War. Following active duty, he continued his military involvement in the United States Marine Corps Reserve, ultimately retiring with the rank of colonel.
In his personal life, Cunningham married Lo Ella Irby of Norwalk, California, and together they had two children, Brian and Kimberley. Later in life, he remarried to Dorothy “Dot” Cunningham, a retired Houston businesswoman.
Academically inclined, Cunningham resumed his studies at Santa Monica College and later transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1958. At UCLA, he excelled academically, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree with honors in 1960 and a Master of Arts degree with distinction in 1961, both in physics. Cunningham’s thirst for knowledge also led him toward a Doctor of Philosophy degree in physics at UCLA, with only the dissertation pending. During this time, he worked at the RAND Corporation for three years before his selection by NASA.
Cunningham’s entry into the world of space exploration came in October 1963 when he was selected as part of the third group of astronauts by NASA. His defining moment occurred on October 11, 1968, when he assumed the role of Lunar Module Pilot for the groundbreaking Apollo 7 mission. This mission marked the first crewed launch of an Apollo mission, although it did not include a lunar module. Cunningham’s responsibilities covered all aspects of the spacecraft, except for launch and navigation. The crew conducted numerous system tests, including successful test firings of the service module engine and precise measurements of spacecraft systems’ accuracy.
After his memorable mission on Apollo 7, Cunningham took on the role of heading the Skylab branch within the Flight Crew Directorate. In 1971, he concluded his tenure with NASA, leaving behind a legacy of achievements.
Life Beyond NASA
In the years that followed, Ronnie Cunningham pursued various interests and ventures. In 1974, he attended Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program, gaining insights into business management. As a businessman and investor, he engaged in multiple private ventures.
Cunningham’s authorship extended to the publication of the book “The All-American Boys” in 1977, offering a personal account of his astronaut experiences. He also contributed significantly as a writer and foreword writer for space history books, including “In the Shadow of the Moon” in 2007.
In 2018, Cunningham took on the role of Astronaut Consultant with the Back to Space organization, aiming to inspire the next generation to explore Mars.
His contributions to space exploration earned him the NASA Distinguished Service Medal in 2008, recognizing his outstanding achievements during the Apollo 7 mission.
Beyond his involvement in space and business, Cunningham ventured into radio hosting and public speaking. He also worked as a consultant for startup technology companies and served as the chairman of the Texas Aerospace Commission.
On January 3, 2023, Ronnie Cunningham passed away in Houston, at the age of 90, following complications resulting from a fall. His departure marked the end of an extraordinary life filled with diverse accomplishments.
Views on Global Warming
Cunningham held views that diverged from the scientific consensus on climate change. He expressed skepticism about human control over the Earth’s temperature and authored a book titled “Global Warming: Facts versus Faith” in 2010. In various writings and statements, he challenged assertions regarding the role of human-made carbon dioxide in global warming.
Ronnie Walter Cunningham’s life was marked by exploration, education, and a steadfast commitment to his beliefs. His legacy remains an enduring part of space history and the ongoing discourse on climate change.