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Astronaut Walt Cunningham Apollo: “The Golden Age of Spaceflight”

Astronaut Walter Cunningham, Lunar Module Pilot on the Apollo 7 mission and author of The All American Boys: An Insiders Look at the U.S. Space Program was the guest speaker at the University of Tennessee Space Institute (UTSI) on October 13, 2017.  Cunningham, a retired American astronaut and NASA’s second civilian astronaut, shared his experience and expertise on a range of topics that helped to shape the Apollo Program.

UTSI was the site for nearly 175 guests who came from near and far to hear Astronaut Walter Cunningham deliver a historic talk on “Apollo: The Golden Age of Spaceflight”.  Among special guests in attendance were local dignitaries, William Hartel, Mrs. Dorothy “Dot” Cunningham, Col. Scott A. Cain, Commander, Arnold Engineering Development Complex (AEDC), UT Chattanooga Students and AEDC personnel. Other distinguished guests present included retired Mirco Craft employee Karl Boehm, and John Tant, former employee at NASA who worked on the Apollo 16 & 17 mission and the Skylab.

Mark Whorton, UTSI’s Executive Director, welcomed everyone to the event. After presenting a brief overview of UTSI, Whorton informed the audience of the purpose of the event which was to “celebrate Walt Cunningham & our space heritage and his contribution & accomplishment to the space Industry”.  Whorton shared his personal story of meeting Charlie Duke at a young age and receiving an autographed photo. Years later, he had the privilege of meeting Duke again. He further stated he dreamed about being involved in the space program and today he has more appreciation for the space program. He encouraged students “to soak in the opportunity & appreciate the significance of what was learned in the past & what we have learned today”.

A number of space memorabilia items donated to UTSI by William “Bill” Hartel, were on display for faculty, staff, students and guests to view. Whorton introduced Hartel to the audience as a great supporter of UTSI also instrumental in getting Astronaut Cunningham to come to UTSI.  Hartel, who introduced Astronaut Cunningham, spoke briefly about his love for space.

Cunningham informed the audience that UTSI is “one of the most social/friendly campuses he has ever visited”.  The Apollo Program was more than just a mission; factors that made the Apollo mission great were motivation, attitude and inspiration stated Cunningham.  He further stated he “personally believed the Apollo shuttle is the greatest flying machine ever built by man”.

 It took a team of engineers, managers and astronauts who never thought of failure and refused to lose to anyone or anything. It was a common dream to test the limits of man, commented Cunningham. In 1961, a group of Americans decided & announced to the world, America would be going to the Moon. Shortly after the announcement, President Kennedy stated, “we will land man on the moon & return him safely to the earth this decade, we choose to do this not because it is easy, but because it is hard”.

Initially, the Apollo program was all about accomplishments, stated Cunningham. However, Apollo had Mission Objectives.  Each mission faced obstacles: Apollo7 CM Operations and Systems / Mission was going so smoothly until four additional objectives were added.  Apollo 7 became 101% successful . . . ‘till this day, Apollo is the longest, most ambitious and most successful first test flight of any new flying machine ever. The first “flying television” was on Apollo 7. Cunningham spoke briefly on each of the Apollo missions. Apollo 8 Psychological Barrier, Apollo 9 Test Lunar Model (LM) Testing No Shield Field, Apollo 10 Landing Rehearsal, Apollo 11 First Moon Landing, Neil Armstrong stepped out into history as the first person to walk on the moon . . . which is a statement for the history book stated Cunningham. Apollo 13 Exploration an Apollo 17 was the last Apollo mission on moon.  Apollo had it all; imaginations, teamwork, risk and uncertainty stated Cunningham.

Exploration is not about eliminating risk, it is about managing risk stated Cunningham. Today grand exploration is at the mercy of politicians . . . we have to be willing to do what is right even if it is not poplar added Cunningham. He concluded his talk stating, “Personally, I feel very fortunate to have lived when I did and I’m proud to have played a small role in an historic accomplishment”.

To view Astronaut Cunningham’s complete talk, log onto the following website:

To order a copy of The All American Boys “An Insiders look at the U.S. Space Program” click on website

 Bill Hartel, Astronaut Walter Cunningham, and Mark Whorton share a special moment

                prior to Apollo: The Golden Age of Spaceflight speech. Photo by: Laura Horton

Mrs. Kaycee Edwards, Coordinator of the “Apollo: The Golden Age of Spaceflight” event and UTSI Students pose in UTSI’s Dining Hall – “The View” with Astronaut Walt Cunningham & Mrs. Dot Cunningham.

Photo by: Laura Horton