Donald Kent Slayton
March 1, 1924
Sparta, Wisconsin, U.S.
|Died||June 13, 1993 (aged 69)|
League City, Texas, U.S.
|Alma mater||University of Minnesota, B.S. 1949|
James H. Doolittle Award
|Bomber pilot, test pilot|
Time in space
|9d 01h 28m|
|Selection||1959 NASA Group 1|
|Missions||Apollo–Soyuz Test Project|
|Retirement||February 27, 1982|
Donald Kent "Deke" Slayton (March 1, 1924 – June 13, 1993), (Major, USAF) was an American World War II pilot, aeronautical engineer, and test pilot who was selected as one of the original NASA Mercury Seven astronauts, and became NASA's first Chief of the Astronaut Office.
After joining NASA, Slayton was selected to pilot the second U.S. manned orbital spaceflight, but was grounded in 1962 by atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rhythm. He then served as NASA's Director of Flight Crew Operations, making him responsible for crew assignments at NASA from November 1963 until March 1972. At that time he was granted medical clearance to fly, and was assigned as the docking module pilot of the 1975 Apollo–Soyuz Test Project (ASTP), at age 51 becoming the oldest person to fly in space at the time. Throughout his career, he logged 6,600 hours flying time including more than 5,100 hours in jet aircraft.
Slayton died at the age of 69 on June 13, 1993, from a malignant brain tumor.
Early life and career
Donald Kent Slayton was born on March 1, 1924, on a farm near Leon, Wisconsin, to Charles Sherman Slayton (1887–1972) and Victoria Adelia Slayton (née Larson; 1895–1970).:9 He was of English and Norwegian descent. From a young age, he worked on the farm to raise sheep and cows, and group tobacco. Throughout Slayton's childhood, his family's home did not have electricity or indoor plumbing. At the age of five, Slayton was clearing a horse-drawn hay mower when his left ring finger was severed.:10-15 He attended a two-room elementary school in Leon, and graduated from Sparta High School in 1942, where he boxed, played trombone, and was active in the Future Farmers of America.:15-17
World War II
The attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese Empire occurred during Slayton's senior year of high school. He initially wished to join the US Navy, but joined the US Army Air Corps when they began accepting high school graduates to fly.:17[note 1] After graduation, Slayton moved to San Antonio, Texas, and entered the Aviation Cadet Training Program. He was initially medically delayed because of his severed ring finger, but was deemed able to fly. Slayton began flight training in Vernon, Texas, where he trained on the Fairchild PT-19, the PT-17 Stearman, and the AT-6 Texan. After three months of primary training, Slayton moved to Waco, Texas for basic flight training, where he BT-13 Valiant. Despite Slayton's wishes to fly single-engine fighter aircraft, he was selected to fly multi-engine aircraft. Slayton began multi-engine training on the Beechcraft AT-10, Cessna AT-12, and the Curtis 18-I. Slayton graduated from flight training on April 22, 1943, and was assigned to fly on the B-25 Mitchell, his last choice for aircraft.:18-22
Slayton moved to Columbia Army Air Base in South Carolina for the three-month-long B-25 Mitchell training. After completing training, he was assigned to the 340th Bombardment Group, and departed for World War II on ship out of Newport News, Virginia. After a stop in Zerni, North Africa, his ship travelled to Naples, Italy. While traveling near the Strait of Gibraltar, their ships came under attack from German bombers and submarines.:23-24 After he arrived in Naples, the 340th Bombardment Group moved to San Petrazio, where Slayton flew combat missions into the Balkan Peninsula. After six weeks, he moved to Foggia, where 48 aircraft were destroyed after an eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Afterwards, Slayton flew out of Salerno and Corsica, where he upgraded from copilot to pilot. After 56 combat sorties, Slayton completed his combat tour and returned to the U.S. in May 1944.:26-32
Immediately upon his return to Columbia Army Air Base to serve as a B-25 instructor, Slayton applied and was accepted to fly the new A-26 Invader bomber aircraft. He moved to Selfridge Field in Michigan for training, and began preparing for a deployment to the Pacific. In July 1945, he arrived on Okinawa Island and joined the 319th Bombardment Group. He flew seven combat missions over Japan, and encountered little Japanese resistance. Slayton flew his final combat mission on August 12th, three days after the bombing of Nagasaki, and spent two months waiting for his return to the U.S. After the war, Slayton worked as B-25 instructor in Albany, Georgia and Boca Raton, Florida, and separated from the Army in November 1946.:33-40
Post-World War II
After he separated from the Army, Slayton enrolled at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, and studied aeronautical Engineering. As a student, he supported himself using the GI Bill and by working at a Montgomery Ward warehouse. He graduated in 1949, and accepted a job as an engineer with the Boeing Aircraft Corporation at Seattle, Washington. After moving to Seattle, Slayton lived in a rooming house and began working as a junior design engineer. While at Boeing, he worked on the B-52 Stratofortress and the KC-97 Stratofreighter.:40-47
While he was a college student, Slayton joined the Air Force Reserve, and was a T-6 Texan pilot flying out of Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport. He transitioned to the Minnesota Air National Guard (ANG), after accepting a demotion from captain to second lieutenant, to allow him to fly the A-26 Invader and P-51 Mustang. He left the Minnesota ANG when he moved to Seattle. Slayton attempted to join an Air Force Reserve unit in Seattle at the start of the Korean War, but was rejected on the grounds that his inactive reserve status had expired. He contacted his previous squadron commander in Minnesota, and accepted his offer to rejoin his former squadron in February 1951. Upon his return, Slayton was initially medically disqualified from flying for his eyesight. He served as a maintenance officer while waiting for his medical clearance, and then became a maintenance flight test officer once he had returned to flying status.:40-49
In 1952, Slayton transferred to active duty Air Force from the Air National Guard. After completing his training at Air Command and Staff School, he was assigned as a maintenance inspector at Twelfth Air Force Headquarters in Wiesbaden Army Airfield, West Germany. He additionally served as an F-86 Sabre pilot and maintenance officer with the 36th Fighter Day Wing at Bitburg Air Base, West Germany. While stationed in Germany, he met Marjorie Lunney, and married her on May 18, 1955.:52-54
At the start of his assignment in Germany, Slayton applied to the Air Force Test Pilot School (TPS), but was rejected to complete his three-year tour. He reapplied and was accepted in 1955, and joined TPS Class 55C. After graduating in December 1955, he became a test pilot at the Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California. He tested the F-101, F-102, F-104, F-105, and F-106. He was first assigned to the F-102, and tested the Matador and Genie missiles, and later tested the stall-spin characteristics of the F-105. In 1958, he helped test Britain's first supersonic fighter, English Electric P1B Lightning.:55-65
In January 1959, Slayton was selected as one of the candidates for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Project Mercury, the first U.S. manned space flight program. Despite his initial lack of interest in spaceflight, he agreed to pursue astronaut selection. After an initial interview at the temporary NASA headquarters in the Dolley Madison House in Washington, D.C., Slayton was psychologically and physically tested at the Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico along with fellow future astronauts Scott Carpenter and Jim Lovell. On April 2, 1959, Slayton was notified of his selection to join the Mercury Seven. He moved his family from Edwards Air Force Base to a housing development near Fort Eustis, where he was neighbors with Gus Grissom and Wally Schirra.:66, 69-75
After he began at NASA, Slayton was assigned to the development of the Convair Atlas LV-3B. In 1959, he was training in a centrifuge, and underwent an electrocardiogram; it was found that he had erratic heart activity. He received further medical evaluation at Brooks Air Force Base, and was diagnosed with idiopathic atrial fibrillation, but was considered healthy enough to continue flying.:78-79, 85-86 During the unmanned Mercury-Atlas 4 orbital spaceflight, he worked at the tracking station in Bermuda. He was selected for the second American manned orbital mission, Mercury-Atlas 7, which he intended to name Delta 7.:104-105, 110 In early 1962, NASA Administrator James Webb opened an investigation in Slayton's atrial fibrillation. On March 15, 1962, two months prior to the launch of Delta 7, Slayton was medically disqualified from his flight, and was replaced on the mission by Scott Carpenter.:111-114  Initially, Slayton's ineligibility was only for his assigned mission, and he attempted to improve his health by exercising more regularly and abstaining from drinking alcohol. NASA leadership determined that Slayton was still at risk for his atrial fibrillation, and removed him from potentially flying on the remaining Mercury missions.:115-116 Flight doctors recommended a cardiac catheterization to determine if he had a congenital condition, but NASA leadership rejected the proposal because of the potential risks of the operation.
After being grounded by NASA, Slayton was selected in early 1962 to serve as the senior manager of the astronaut office. One of his first roles was to select the Group 2 astronauts, and the new class was announced in September 1962. Additionally, he was tasked with making future crew assignments, and assigned Gordon Cooper to Mercury-Atlas 9.:115-122 In an administrative restructuring in October 1963, Slayton became assistant director of Flight Crew Operations, in addition to his job managing the astronaut office. In November 1963, he resigned from his commission in the Air Force after he was permanenntly disqualified from flying, and became a civilian executive for NASA. After Alan Shepard was permanently grounded due to Ménière's disease, he replaced Slayton as the manager of the astronaut office, while Slayton continued to work for Flight Crew Operations.:133-140
Restored to full flight status
While grounded, Slayton took several measures to attempt to be restored to flight status, including a daily exercise program, quitting cigarette smoking and coffee, and drastically reducing consumption of alcoholic beverages. He also took massive doses of vitamins.
In 1970 his palpitations became more frequent and he started taking experimental daily doses of quinidine, a crystalline alkaloid. This treatment was successful, but concerned that taking medication would still disqualify him from solo flying, Slayton stopped taking it against doctors orders. The fibrillation did not return.
A comprehensive review of his medical status by NASA's director of life sciences and the Federal Aviation Agency, including a heart catheterization, resulted in the full restoration of his flight status in March 1972. Slayton celebrated with an hour of aerobatic maneuvers in a NASA T-38 jet trainer.
After he was restored to flight status, Slayton was selected in February 1973 as docking module pilot for the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project (ASTP), a docking between an American Apollo spacecraft and a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft. The American crew immediately began an intensive two-year training program, which included learning the Russian language and making frequent trips to the USSR, where astronauts trained for weeks at Star City, the cosmonaut training center near Moscow. Slayton resigned as Director of Flight Crew Operations in February 1974.
On July 17, 1975, the two craft joined up in orbit, and astronauts Slayton, Thomas P. Stafford and Vance D. Brand conducted crew transfers with cosmonauts Alexei Leonov and Valeri Kubasov. At the end of the flight, an erroneous switch setting led to noxious nitrogen tetroxide fumes from the command module's RCS thrusters being sucked into the cabin during landing, and the crew was hospitalized as a precaution in Honolulu, Hawaii, for two weeks. During hospitalization, a lesion was discovered on Slayton's lung and removed. It was determined to be benign, but he would have almost certainly been grounded from ASTP if this had been discovered before the flight.
During his first and only spaceflight, he spent 217 hours in space.
Space Shuttle program
Following the ALT program, Slayton served as Manager for Orbital Flight Test, directing orbital flight mission preparations and conducting mission operations. He was responsible for OFT operations scheduling, mission configuration control, preflight stack configuration control, as well as conducting planning reviews, mission readiness reviews, and postflight mission evaluations. He was also responsible for the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft program.
Although Slayton expressed his hope of flying on a Shuttle mission, new NASA management did not favor him, making it clear that they considered him part of the past and that they planned to recruit a new young group of astronauts for the Shuttle era.
Slayton retired from NASA in 1980, but retained unofficial ties as a consultant until 1982. After retirement, he served as president of Space Services Inc., a Houston-based company earlier founded to develop rockets for small commercial payloads. He served as mission director for a rocket called the Conestoga, which was successfully launched on September 9, 1982, and was the world's first privately funded rocket to reach space. Slayton also became interested in aviation racing. In addition to serving as a consultant to some aerospace corporations, he was President of International Formula One Pylon Air Racing and Director of Columbia Astronautics. He also served on the Department of Transportation's Commercial Space Advisory Committee.
Slayton penned an autobiography with space historian Michael Cassutt entitled Deke!: U.S. Manned Space from Mercury to the Shuttle. As well as Slayton's own astronaut experiences, the book describes how he made crew choice selections, including choosing the first person to walk on the Moon. Numerous astronauts have noted that only when reading this book did they learn why they had been selected for certain flights decades earlier.
Slayton's name also appears with three other co-authors, including fellow astronaut Alan Shepard, on the book Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon, published in 1994. The book was also made into a documentary film of the same name. Slayton died before either Moon Shot project was finished or released, and the book did not receive any input from him. However, the film was narrated from Slayton's point of view (voiced by Barry Corbin) and includes a brief tribute to him at the end.
Slayton married Marjorie "Marge" Lunney (1921–1989) in May 1955, and they had one son, Kent Sherman, born April 8, 1957.:345 They eventually divorced, and Slayton later married Bobbie Belle Jones (1945–2010) in 1983. They remained married until his death.:350 His hobbies were hunting, fishing, shooting, and airplane racing.
Shortly after he moved to League City, Texas, in 1992, Slayton was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He died from the illness, at the age of 69, on June 13, 1993. He was cremated and his ashes scattered over his family farm in Wisconsin.
Slayton was a member of numerous organizations. He was a fellow of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots and the American Astronautical Society; associate fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics; member of the Experimental Aircraft Association, the Space Pioneers, and the Confederate Air Force; life member of the Order of Daedalians, the National Rifle Association of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Fraternal Order of Eagles; honorary member of the American Fighter Aces Association, the National WWII Glider Pilots Association and the Association of Space Explorers.
Awards and honors
Military and NASA decorations and medals:
Slayton's other awards include:
The Gen. Billy Mitchell Award; the SETP James H. Doolittle Award (1972); the National Institute of Social Sciences Gold Medal (1975); the Zeta Beta Tau’s Richard Gottheil Medal (1975); the Wright Brothers International Manned Space Flight Award (1975); the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Space Award (1976); the American Heart Association’s Heart of the Year Award (1976); the FAI Yuri Gagarin Gold Medal (1976); the District 35-R Lions International American of the Year Award (1976); the AIAA Special Presidential Citation (1977); the University of Minnesota’s Outstanding Achievement Award (1977); the Houston Area Federal Business Association’s Civil Servant of the Year Award (1977); the AAS Flight Achievement Award for 1976; and the AIAA Haley Astronautics Award for 1978.
—Slayton's high school yearbook motto.
Deke Slayton was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame on May 11, 1990, the International Space Hall of Fame in 1990, the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1996, and the International Air & Space Hall of Fame in 2001.
The Deke Slayton Memorial Space & Bicycle Museum in Sparta, Wisconsin was named in his honor. The Slayton biographical exhibit includes his Mercury space suit, his Ambassador of Exploration Award, which showcases a lunar sample, and more. In nearby La Crosse, Wisconsin, an annual summer aircraft air show, the Deke Slayton Airfest, has been held in his honor, featuring modern and vintage military and civilian aircraft, along with NASA speakers.
- In the 1983 film The Right Stuff Slayton was played by Scott Paulin.
- In the 1995 film Apollo 13 he was played by Chris Ellis.
- In the 1996 TV movie Apollo 11 he was played by Jack Conley.
- In the 1998 TV miniseries From the Earth to the Moon he was played by Nick Searcy.
- In the 2009 TV movie Moonshot he was played by Nigel Whitmey.
- In the 2015 TV series The Astronaut Wives Club he was played by Kenneth Mitchell.
- In the 2016 film Hidden Figures he was played by Evan Holtzman.
- In the 2018 film First Man he was played by Kyle Chandler.
- Slayton, Donald K.; Cassutt, Michael (1994). Deke!: U.S. Manned Space: From Mercury to the Shuttle (1st ed.). New York: Forge. ISBN 0-312-85503-6. LCCN 94002463. OCLC 29845663.
- ——; Cassutt, Michael (1995) [Originally copyrighted 1994]. Deke!. New York: Forge. ISBN 0-312-85918-X. LCCN 94002463. OCLC 42051303.
- ——; Shepard, Alan B.; Barbree, Jay; Benedict, Howard (1994). Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America’s Race to the Moon. Introduction by Neil Armstrong (1st ed.). Atlanta: Turner Publishing Company. ISBN 1-878685-54-6. LCCN 94003027. OCLC 29846731. Author in name only.
- ——; Carpenter, M. Scott; Cooper, L. Gordon, Jr.; Glenn, John H., Jr.; Grissom, Virgil I.; Schirra, Walter M., Jr.; Shepard, Alan B., Jr. (2010) [Originally published 1962]. We Seven: By the Astronauts Themselves. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks. ISBN 978-1-4391-8103-4. LCCN 62019074. OCLC 429024791.
- The United States Navy required its pilots to have a college degree.
- This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
- "Astronaut Bio: Deke Slayton 6/93". NASA. June 1993. Retrieved August 8, 2013.
- Gray, Tara. "Donald K. "Deke" Slayton". NASA History Program Office. Retrieved October 6, 2016.
- Slayton, Donald; Cassutt, Michael (1994). Deke! U.S. Manned Space from Mercury to the Shuttle. New York, New York: Tom Doherty Associates, Inc. ISBN 0-312-85503-6.
- "Flew on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project mission". New Mexico Museum of Space History. Retrieved October 6, 2016.
- "Donald K "Deke" Slayton". Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame. Retrieved August 8, 2013.
While at Edwards, Deke Slayton flew test flight missions on the F-101, F-102, F-105 and the F-106.
- Kranz, Gene (2000). Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-0079-9. LCCN 00027720. OCLC 43590801.
...[H]e was one of the hot test pilots at Edwards Air Force Base, pushing the F-105 to its limits.
- "Deke Slayton at Orbital ATK" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on November 25, 2015. Retrieved November 30, 2017.
- Altman, Lawrence K. (April 27, 1972). "Deke Slayton Studies Russian and Dreams of Space". New York Times. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
- Compton, W. David (1989). Where No Man Has Gone Before: A History of Apollo Lunar Exploration Missions. Washington, DC: NASA. SP-4214. Retrieved January 4, 2019.
- Abell, John C. (September 9, 2009). "September 9, 1982: 3-2-1 … Liftoff! The First Private Rocket Launch". Wired.com. Condé Nast. Retrieved August 8, 2013.
- Shepard & Slayton 1994
- Burgess, Colin (2011). Selecting the Mercury Seven: The Search for America's First Astronauts. New York: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-1-4419-8405-0. ISBN 978-1-4419-8404-3. LCCN 2011925650. OCLC 747105631.
- Slayton's hobbies
- Slayton & Cassutt 1995, p. 185
- "Today in history". The New York Times. Associated Press. June 13, 2014. Retrieved June 13, 2014.
- "Members, United States". Association of Space Explorers. Retrieved January 4, 2019.
- "Slayton, Donald "Deke"". National Aviation Hall of Fame. Retrieved January 4, 2019.
- "Donald K. (Deke) Slayton". Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. Retrieved January 4, 2019.
- "National Aviation Hall of fame: Our Enshrinees". National Aviation Hall of Fame. Retrieved February 10, 2011.
- Sprekelmeyer, Linda (2006). These We Honor: The International Aerospace Hall of Fame. Donning Co. Publishers. ISBN 978-1-57864-397-4.
- "Texas Oncology-Deke Slayton Cancer Center". Retrieved February 10, 2011.
- "Bobbie Slayton dead at 65". Bay Area Citizen. Houston, TX: Houston Community Newspapers. November 29, 2010. Retrieved February 10, 2011.
- "Homepage". Deke Slayton Memorial Space & Bicycle Museum. Retrieved January 5, 2019.
- Foust, Jeff (December 6, 2015). "Atlas Launches Cygnus Cargo Spacecraft to Space Station". SpaceNews. Retrieved January 4, 2019.
- Cooper, Steve (October 2, 1983). "Scott Paulin had the 'Right Stuff' for role in film". The San Bernardino County Sun. San Bernardino, California. p. D-1.
- Grantham, Loretta (July 9, 1995). "NASA's true, amazing, out of this world G-whiz forces". The Palm Beach Post. West Palm Beach, Florida. p. 4D.
- Apollo 11 on IMDb
- Kiss, Tony (April 5, 1998). "Space Race Revisited". Asheville Citizen-Times. Ashevill, North Carolina. p. D1.
- Moonshot on IMDb
- Morabito, Andrea (June 20, 2015). "Astronaut Wives Club' fires up ABC". New York Post. Retrieved January 5, 2019.
- Hidden Figures on IMDb
- Snowden, Scott (October 4, 2018). "'First Man' Offers an Emotional Account of Neil Armstrong's Life (Film Review)". Space.com. Retrieved January 4, 2019.
- Deke Slayton Airfest
- Deke Slayton on IMDb
- Astronautix biography of Deke Slayton
- Spacefacts biography of Deke Slayton
| Chief of the Astronaut Office