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[i]Forty years after flying NASA's first manned Apollo mission, the crew of Apollo 7 was honored on Friday with the space agency's highest award, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal.
The presentation at long-last recognized the crew's contributions to the United States' first lunar landing program, granting Wally Schirra, Donn Eisele and Walt Cunningham the same award that all of their fellow flown Apollo astronauts received almost four decades earlier.[/i]
The importance of your mission cannot be overstated. You and your crewmates, Wally Schirra and Donn Eisele, returned America to space nearly two years after the tragic Apollo 1 fire. Your mission restored our nation's confidence in our space program and helped pave the way for the moon landing.
And what a mission it was: after 11 days and 163 orbits, Apollo 7 is the longest and most successful first test flight ever, as a testament of the remarkable skill of the crew and the can do attitude of the thousands of engineers, flight controllers, scientists and support personnel on the ground.
In an age when the word hero is thrown about sometimes casually, you and your crew mates were the real deal. I am thrilled to say thank you today from all of those who remember your outstanding accomplishments. Congratulations again, and may God bless you and our nation.
I and my crew mates, Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko, would like to send a heartfelt congratulations to you on the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 7 mission. We offer you and your crew mates, Wally Schirra and Donn Eisele, and to all the pioneering astronauts and cosmonauts, our sincere thanks for making it possible for us to reach for the stars. The Apollo 7 mission was flawless and launched the entire Apollo program and put humans on the surface of the Moon.
Walt, this should be a great day in your life. It is hard to believe that 40 years ago, we were all standing by for Apollo 7 to carry out the first flight of a manned Apollo spacecraft having come through a very bad period in spaceflight history because of the three deaths on the pad in January 1967. You guys were first up to fly our repaired and rebuilt spacecraft and further than that, the results of your flight were to be evaluated in terms of allowing the next vehicle, Apollo 8, to fly around the Moon before the year was out. Those were heady times.
It was very, very important that the Apollo 7 test to be flown by you three guys was successful. It was very important that all of the systems be tested and found operable and ready to endure an 11 day flight to the Moon. The success of that mission was certainly due to the crew of Apollo 7. You performed flawlessly, the results were really outstanding and without question it allowed us to continue on and plan the first lunar flight in the Apollo program.
So what you did was extremely important, it was extremely successful, we're all very proud of the job you did and you should be, and I know you are as well. I hope that the recognition you received today will restore some of your faith in your fellow travelers. We gave you a hard time once but you certainly survived that and have done extremely well since. You've done well by yourself, you've done well for NASA and I am frankly, very proud to call you a friend.
I am honored to join you in celebrating the 50th anniversary of NASA and the legacy of Apollo 7 and one of the astronauts who made it successful, Walt Cunningham.
Throughout his life, Walt has proven himself to be a man of rare talents. He has been a Marine Corps fighter pilot, an innovative entrepreneur, a talented author and the chairman of the Texas Aerospace Commission, a position I was proud to appoint him to during my time as governor.
Yet he is best known for the event the world witnessed 40 years ago, the flight of Apollo 7, the first successful manned mission in the Apollo program. For 11 days and more than 4 million miles, Walt, Donn Eisele and Wally Schirra orbited the Earth while testing the technology that would take us to the Moon and they proved there was no frontier too distant for America's spirit of discovery.
America has always been a nation of explorers. Over the course of generations, Americans have crossed vast oceans and tamed a wild continent under the pursuit of liberty and in the 50 years since NASA was created, men like Walt Cunningham have led us on a new voyage, a journey into the endless mystery of space. With their extraordinary achievements four decades ago, Walt and his crew mates earned our respect, our gratitude and our recognition as American heroes. Today they remain a testament our nation's pioneering spirit and the unlimited talents of our people. Thank you and God bless you.
From left to right: Walt Cunningham, Alan Bean, Bill Anders, Gene Kranz, Mark Davis (WBAP), Neil Armstrong, Farris Rookstool (Powerhousepr), John Healey (NAA engineer).
Walt Cunningham with the Apollo 7 command module at the Frontiers of Flight Museum.
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