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Wally Schirra, Astronaut And Network Newsman, Dies

By | May 7, 2007

      Walter “Wally” Schirra, an adventurous astronaut on pioneering 1960s space missions and a veteran CBS News space commentator in the days of anchorman Walter Cronkite, died of natural causes last week. He was 84.

      Schirra flew in all three of the early manned programs, Mercury, Gemini and Apollo.

      He was commander of the first crew to fly into space aboard an Apollo capsule, Apollo 7, following the tragic launchpad fire that claimed the lives of the crew of Apollo 1.

      Apollo was, and is now, the only U.S. moon mission program, and will remain so until the Constellation Program sends astronauts in the planned Orion-Ares back to the moon more than a decade from now.

      “With the passing of Wally Schirra, we at NASA note with sorrow the loss of yet another of the pioneers of human spaceflight,” NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said. “As a Mercury astronaut, Wally was a member of the first group of astronauts to be selected, often referred to as the Original Seven.”

      Schirra’s first space flight was piloting the fifth Mercury mission on Oct. 3, 1962, orbiting Earth six times in 9 hours and 13 minutes.

      During the flight he took hundreds of photos of Earth and space phenomena. Schirra’s capsule, Sigma 7, splashed down only five miles from the recovery carrier.

      He retired from the Navy as a captain and from NASA in 1969, and became a commentator with CBS News from 1969 to 1975.

      He also engaged in a range of business activities and in 1979 formed his own consultant company, Schirra Enterprises.

      Walter M. Schirra, Jr., was born in Hackensack, N.J., on March 12, 1923. He gained his degree from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1945, and from Naval Flight Training at Pensacola Naval Air Station, Fla., in 1947. During the Korean War he flew F-86 Sabres under an exchange program with the Air Force.

      Schirra’s military awards included the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Air Medals, two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal and the Philippines Legion of Honor.

      Schirra lived in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. Survivors include his wife Josephine, his daughter Suzanne and son Walter Schirra III.

      Images and video from Schirra’s years with NASA can be seen at:

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