NASA upgraded the Apollo 7 Astronaut Medals to a Certificate of Distinguished Service at a ceremony in October 2008, noting the mission’s success despite discussions with flight controllers. But Mr. Cunningham was then the only surviving crew member. Major Eisell, who died in 1987, was represented by his widow, Susan Eisell Black. Captain Schirra, who died in 2007, was killed by astronaut Bill Anders.
Mr. Kraft took a conciliatory position. “We got you through some tough times once, but you’ve certainly gotten through it and you’ve done a good job since then,” Cunningham said in a recorded message. “You’ve done a great job on your own, you’ve done a great job with NASA, and honestly, I’m so proud to call you a friend.”
Ronnie Walter Cunningham was born on March 16, 1932, in Creston, Iowa, the oldest of five children. His father, Walter, had a small construction business. When he was young, his family moved to Venice, California.
He entered the Navy in 1951 and flew Marine Corps aircraft. After leaving active duty in 1956, he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics from the University of California, Los Angeles. While at RAND in October 1963, pursuing a Ph.D., he was assigned to NASA’s third group of astronauts.
Shortly after Apollo 7, Cunningham was appointed director of what became known as the Skylab program, which developed America’s first space station. He was succeeded by astronaut Pete Conrad in 1970. Mr Cunningham resigned from NASA the following year after failing to secure a mission to fly the next Skylab missions.
Mr. Cunningham went on to become a senior executive in financial and real estate companies. In 2012, he joined a group of former astronauts and NASA employees who sent a letter to the agency criticizing what they saw as unsubstantiated claims that man-made carbon dioxide was a major factor in global warming.