Walter "Wally" Schirra, the only NASA astronaut to fly in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programmes, has died aged 84 years old.

Only John Glenn and Scott Carpenter remain from the Mercury programme's original seven astronauts, who included Gordon Cooper, Deke Slayton, Alan Shepherd and Virgil "Gus" Grissom.

Previously a naval aviator, Schirra was chosen to be an astronaut in 1959 from 110 selected test pilots from the US Air Force, Navy and Marine corps, after exhaustive physical and psychological examinations.

He became the third American to orbit the Earth when he flew in the Sigma 7 capsule on the fifth Mercury flight, called Mercury MA-8, in October 1962, orbiting the Earth six times. The first two Mercury flights were suborbital.

Walter Schirra

Schirra then commanded the capsule Gemini 6A in December 1965, a flight with Tom Stafford, that saw the first rendezvous of two manned, manoeuvrable spacecraft.

Gemini 6A and Gemini 7, carrying James Lovell and Frank Borman, flew in formation for five hours, as close as one foot to one another.

Schirra went on to command Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo flight after the Apollo 1 launch pad fire, almost two years previously, that killed its crew of three including original seven astronaut Gus Grissom.

During Apollo 7's 11-day flight in Earth orbit in October 1968 Schirra and his crew members Walter Cunningham and Donn Eisele tested the spacecraft's systems in preparation for the later Moon missions.

Schirra Still

Video: Schirra on Exploration (NASA)
Schirra retired from the Navy as a captain and from NASA in 1969 and became a commentator with CBS Television until 1975, then forming his own company, Schirra Enterprises in 1979 and working with various businesses and non-profit organisations.

Born in Hackensack, New Jersey, on 12 March 1923 he graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1945 and from Naval Flight Training at Pensacola Naval Air Station, Florida in 1947.

After service as a carrier-based fighter pilot and operations officer, he attended the US Naval Test Pilot School.

During the Korean War he flew North American F-86 Sabres under an exchange programme with the US Air Force.

Schirra's awards included the US 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 Honour.