For much of 1968, America's Space program faced a decidedly uncertain future. Whereas not all that long before, many Americans were enthusiastic about the prospects of exploring space. Perhaps most especially, reaching the moon. Not to mention trying to outdo the Soviet Union in the Space Race. But in 1967, a fire during a training exercise killed astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger B. Chaffee.

The catastrophic events led to an understandable and necessary slow down in momentum. Along with concern and anxiety among the general public just how hazardous space travel could be.

In the fall of 1968, a three-man crew would be the first to return to space following the tragic fire. Among them was pilot Walter Cunningham.

Passed away on January 3, 2022

Walter Cunningham has died, reports CNN. Complications from a fall were the apparent cause of death. His passing comes less than three full months after his fellow famed former NASA astronaut James McDivitt.

As noted by the agency itself, Cunningham was among its third class of astronauts. He had been scheduled to travel to space somewhat sooner than he eventually would. But all manned missions were put on hold, pending investigation into what led to the deaths of his colleagues.

Eventually, Cunningham got his chance, alongside Wally Schirra and Donn F.

Eisele. Cunningham was designated as the mission's lunar module pilot - even though the mission had no lunar module to be found.

But all the same, he would have a heavy workload during his time in outer space, overseeing most spacecraft operations. Cunningham and company would successfully perform several maneuvers that would be essential in reaching and returning from the moon.

They also took on a number of other momentous tasks during their days in space. Such as preparing the first hot meal to be served aboard a United States spacecraft. Beef stew, spaghetti, vegetable soup and coffee were purportedly among the dining availabilities.

On a number of occasions, the crew made televised broadcasts during the mission.

For which they would be given a special Emmy Award.

After safely making the journey back to Earth, Cunningham would take on different roles with NASA. He would become a lead figure in the Skylab program before stepping away from NASA in the early 1970s.

Cunningham was a recipient of the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, the agency's highest decoration. He would also be inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame and the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Was also a United States Marine Corps aviator

Walter Cunningham was a native of Creston in southern Iowa. He graduated from Venice High School in Los Angeles, California. Followed by attending Santa Monica College, the University of California, Los Angeles and Harvard Business School.

Cunningham initially began his military career by enlisting in the United States Navy. He later was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps and became a fighter pilot. In 1953, he was deployed to serve in the Korean War. But the Korean Armistice Agreement would be signed by the team he arrived.

Cunningham remained stationed on the Korean Peninsula for a number of years. He would go on to retire from the Marine Corps holding the rank of colonel.