Today, January 3, 2023 I saw the sad news of the passing of Apollo 7 Astronaut Walt Cunningham. I first met Walt and his lovely wife Dot at a national Assn. of Rocketry Annual Meet held at Manassas, VA in the early 2000s. He was signing copies of his book “All American Boys” in both print and in audio book. Considering that he was one of the first men to fly the Saturn IB, and that I was there selling my Dr. Zooch S-IB kits, I decided to stroll over, show him my display and see what he said about it. He held it with a fighter pilot’s delicate touch and admired it. Then he showed it to Dot and said,
“This was a great rocket… smooth and great to fly.”
I asked if he would be kind enough to autograph it if I bought a copy of his audio book. Adding that I already had the hardcover and had read it cover to cover. With that he added his signature to both and denoted “Apollo 7.”
Many years later, I was attending Spacefest to sign and sell my “Growing up with Spaceflight” books. I had my youngest daughter in tow and when it was time for breakfast, she wanted to just stay in our room and watch cartoons. Thus, I went to my morning meal solo. Sitting there waiting for the server to bring my drink order, I saw Walt and Dot walk in. They looked around the café appearing somewhat lost. As the server directed them to a table, I spoke up and invited them to dine with me. They accepted and sat down. Then as the server approached, I said,
“Their meal is on my tab please,”
Dot politely declined- but I insisted, saying it was my pleasure, plus, since I was there on business, it was also tax deductible.
Now dot happily accepted as did Walt.
One huge rule is when you meet an astronaut, you do not want to talk about spaceflight, unless they bring it up first. Always talk about aviation or in this case- authoring.
Walt and I got into a long conversation about our books and the writing process. Since I knew that Walt had written all of his book himself, we really had common ground.
At one point he reached into his pocket and meekly pulled out a tissue with a bunch of pills in it,
“One of the worst parts about growing old is they make you take all of these damned pills,” he grumbled.
Taking a quick look and count I replied,
“I’m 25 years younger than you, and you only have me beat by three pills.”
Looking over at me he half grinned and said,
“Well… now I don’t feel so bad.”
We had an amazing breakfast together and talked so much that we were all several minutes late getting back on the convention floor to man our booths.
After the day’s events were done, I got on the phone and called my mom ho was up in Michigan,
“Guess what I just got to do? I got to buy Apollo 7 astronaut Walt Cunningham and his wife breakfast!”
It was a high point in my life as a spacebuff.