Walt Cunningham is one of less than 600 people in history who have flown in space, but that’s probably not even the most interesting thing about him.
At 86, Walt Cunningham is still sharp as a tack — which is exactly what you’d expect from a former astronaut who spent eight years at NASA and 11 days in space on the Apollo 7 mission.
Growing up in Southern California during World War II, Walt had an early affinity for fighter jets. As he recalls, “I listened to P-38s and P-51s taking off locally, and it got to the point where the teacher would ask me, ‘What airplane is that?’ and I could just tell from the sound what it was.”
The day after he graduated high school, Walt enlisted in the Navy because he wanted to be a pilot and avoid being drafted into the Korean War. He managed to pass a two-year college test to get him into pilot training. He found out the only way to guarantee that he would be able to fly single engine fighter planes was to join the Marine Corps. After joining the Marines and getting his wings Walt was immediately sent to Korea — but he had also accomplished exactly what he set out to do: flying fighter jets.
Walt has lived many lives in his 86 years, but the through-line is the same: when he sets his mind to something, he achieves it, whatever it takes. “You’ve got to be able to try for whatever you want to do,” he says. “You’ve gotta be willing to stick your neck out.”
His life changed forever the morning Walt listened to the radio broadcast of the Mercury 7 launch, which made Alan Shepard the second person and the first American to go to space.
“When it got to the last five minutes, I couldn’t even keep driving,” he says. “I pulled over to the side of the road, and I can remember listening, ‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Liftoff’! That moment led to me becoming an astronaut.”
After an intensive selection process and an even more grueling training period, Walt joined NASA as an astronaut, eventually spending 11 days in space on the Apollo 7 mission.
Though it was only a small portion of his long and storied life, Walt is still one of only a few hundred human beings to have experienced spaceflight. “I’m almost 87, and nobody ever asks about anything other than the eight years I spent at NASA, so that shows how important it was.”
But beyond those eight years, Walt has continued to “stick his neck out,” racking up accomplishments in an astonishing number of fields.
When he joined NASA, Walt had nearly completed a doctorate in physics from UCLA, but instead of finishing that program after he left NASA, he went off to Harvard Business School, became an entrepreneur, a venture capitalist and an aerospace consultant in Houston, Texas. He received an Emmy award for the live coverage the Apollo 7 crew shot in space. He published a best-selling memoir of his time at NASA. And today, he is still going strong, as a public speaker and consultant to startup technology companies.
"Everyone in those days did things like this for their country. We did it because it needed to be done, and we felt like that's what we were born for."
- Walt Cunningham
OUR VISION: A BETTER WORLD
Walt knows better than anyone the benefits of Eagle Eyes advanced optics, based on the same NASA technology that protected his vision when he was in space — and in fact, he was an early proponent of Eagle Eyes sunglasses.
“I’ve been wearing Eagle Eyes glasses now for probably 30years,” Walt says. And as the company has evolved its offerings, Walt has discovered new benefits, sporting multiple styles and advanced optic technologies to protect and expand his vision.
Even at 86, Walt still loves zipping around in his Corvette (his whole life, all he’s ever owned are sports cars). But at night, he’s careful to use the additional protection and clarity provided by Eagle Eyes Night-Lite® technology.
“When you’re driving a sports car, you need to make sure your eyes are good and clear. Driving at night can give you some real problems — lowlight, glare from other vehicles — so it’s nice to be able to screen out the glare. It makes it a whole lot easier to drive because you can see so much better.”
Whether it was in the cockpit of a fighter jet, the command module of a spaceship or behind the wheel of his beloved sports cars, Walt would never be caught without his sunglasses. Developed from original NASA optic technology, Eagle Eyes TriLenium® polarized lens technology blocks scattered blue light and 99.9% of harmful UV radiation, so Walt can balance smart style with smart protection (even) on earth.
“I feel fortunate at my age that my eyes are still working, and I wear sunglasses every day. In those days we didn’t know if they were important or not, but we wore them all the time.”
But that’s not all Walt likes about Eagle Eyes.
“When I’m driving sports cars and wearing my Eagle Eyes sunglasses, I feel like I did when I was flying airplanes.”
It's not all spaceships and sports cars for Walt. He still needs to use the computer like the rest of us. And when he does, he relies on Eagle Eyes DigiTec® lenses to protect his vision from glare and the damaging blue light of the computer screen.
“I’ve been wearing Eagle Eyes glasses now for probably 30 years — and I’m still wearing them! But as my eyes keep getting worse, I’ve noticed that Eagle Eyes has evolved into addressing some of the physiological issues that come along with age. As the years go on, you realize how much you have to protect your eyes.”
And Walt isn’t the only one in his family who trusts their vision to Eagle Eyes. Dot, his wife, has been wearing Eagle Eyes for nearly 20 years, and she’s especially fond of our DigiTec lenses.
“I’m a voracious reader — Walt says I read more than anyone he’s ever met — but after a full day of staring at a computer, it’s hard for me to read at night. I’ve tried to cut back on how much businessI was doing during the day, but that didn’t work either.”
When she discovered Eagle Eyes DigiTec® glasses, however, Dot was able to get back to her impressive reading schedule without sacrificing her work on the boards of several Houston-area nonprofits, including Be An Angel.
Meet Our Heroes
Whether they're fighting five-alarm fires, helping former prisoners start a new life, educating the next generation, or performing lifesaving surgery in the ER, Eagle Eyes real-life heroes are making the world a better place every single day.
Meet these inspirational men and women—and find out how Eagle Eyes advanced optic technology is helping them do their heroic work even better.