Deke Slayton

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Donald Kent Slayton
NASA Astronaut
Nationality American
Status Deceased
Born (1924-03-01)March 1, 1924
Sparta, Wisconsin, U.S.
Died June 13, 1993(1993-06-13) (aged 69)
League City, Texas, U.S.
Other names Donald Kent Slayton
Previous occupation Bomber pilot; test pilot
Alma mater University of Minnesota, B.S. 1949
Rank Major, USAF
Time in space 9 days, 1 hour and 28 minutes
Selection 1959 NASA Group
Missions Apollo–Soyuz Test Project
Mission insignia Astp-S75-20361.jpg
Retirement February 27, 1982
Awards Collier Trophy
James H. Doolittle Award

Donald Kent Slayton (March 1, 1924 – June 13, 1993), better known as Deke Slayton, was an American World War II pilot, one of the original NASA Mercury Seven astronauts, and a NASA administrator.[1]

After joining NASA, Slayton was selected to pilot the second U.S. manned orbital spaceflight, but was grounded in 1962 by a heart murmur. 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, becoming the oldest person to fly in space at age 51. This record was surpassed in 1983 by 53 year old John Young and in 1998 by his fellow Project Mercury astronaut John Glenn, who at the age of 77 flew on Space Shuttle mission STS-95.


Early life and education[edit]

Slayton was born on a farm near Sparta, Wisconsin. A childhood farm equipment accident left him with a severed left ring finger. He attended elementary school in Leon, Wisconsin and graduated from Sparta High School in 1942.

He entered the United States Army Air Forces as a cadet in 1942, training as a B-25 bomber pilot. He flew 56 combat missions with the 340th Bombardment Group over Europe during World War II and later flew seven combat missions over Japan in a Douglas A-26 Invader as part of the 319th Bombardment Group.

After the war, Slayton earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical engineering from the University of Minnesota, in 1949.

Slayton became a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base in California. He tested supersonic Air Force fighters, including the F-101, F-102, F-105, and F-106,[2] and was responsible for determining stall-spin characteristics for the large F-105, which became the principal fighter bomber used by the USAF over North Vietnam.[3]

Mercury Seven[edit]

Slayton was chosen as one of the original seven American astronauts in 1959. He was scheduled to fly in 1962 on the second orbital flight (to have been named Delta 7, the name coming from the mission being the fourth spaceflight—the fourth letter in the Greek alphabet and the seven astronauts), but because of an erratic heart rate (idiopathic atrial fibrillation), he was grounded in September 1962,[4] and his place was taken by Scott Carpenter aboard Aurora 7. Slayton was the only member of the Mercury Seven who did not fly in the Mercury program. He was one of the eight Paresev pilots.[5]

Gemini and Apollo selection[edit]

When NASA grounded Slayton, the Air Force followed suit. From September 1962 until November 1963, he obtained the unofficial title of "chief astronaut" when he took on the position of Coordinator of Astronaut Activities, which would later officially become Chief of the Astronaut Office. Slayton resigned his Air Force commission in 1963 and then worked for NASA in a civilian capacity as head of astronaut selection. He had the decisive role in choosing the crews for the Gemini and Apollo programs, including the decision of who would be the first person on the Moon.

In 1972, Slayton was awarded the Society of Experimental Test Pilots James H. Doolittle Award.

Apollo–Soyuz flight[edit]

Deke Slayton (right) with cosmonaut Alexey Leonov in the Soyuz spacecraft

A long medical program[clarification needed] led to Slayton being restored to full flight status in 1972, when he was selected as docking module pilot for the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project, a docking between the American Apollo spacecraft and the Soyuz spacecraft of the Soviet Union. 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 Alexey Leonov and Valeri Kubasov. At the end of the flight, an erroneous switch setting led to the introduction of noxious fumes into the Apollo 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.

After the Apollo–Soyuz flight, he became head of the Approach and Landing Tests for NASA's space shuttle program.


Slayton retired from NASA in 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.[6] Slayton also became interested in aviation racing.

Slayton penned an autobiography with space historian Michael Cassutt entitled Deke!: U.S. Manned Space from Mercury to the Shuttle.[7] As well as Slayton's own astronaut experiences, the book describes how Slayton 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.[8] 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 very end.

Personal life[edit]

Slayton was a friend of fellow astronaut Gus Grissom.[9] He married Marjorie "Marge" Lunney in 1955, and they had one son, Kent Sherman (born in 1957).[10] They eventually divorced, and Slayton later married Bobbie Belle Jones (1945–2010). They remained married until his death.[11]

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.


Slayton's other awards include -

The Collier Trophy; the SETP Iven C. Kincheloe Award; the Gen. Billy Mitchell Award; the SEPT J.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 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 (1977); the AIAA Haley Astronautics Award for 1978; honorary doctorate in Science from Carthage College, Carthage, Illinois, in 1961; honorary doctorate in Engineering from Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan, in 1965.


With the other Mercury astronauts, Slayton was awarded the Collier Trophy in 1962 for "'for pioneering manned space flight in the United States.'"[12]

Slayton was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1996.[13]

The Texas Oncology-Deke Slayton Cancer Center (located on Medical Center Blvd. in Webster, Texas) was named in his honor in 2000.[14]

The main stretch of road in League City, Texas, FM 518, was renamed Deke Slayton Highway.[15]

The Deke Slayton Memorial Space & Bicycle Museum in Sparta, Wisconsin, was named in his honor.[16] 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 media[edit]

See also[edit]

Books authored[edit]


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

  1. ^ "Astronaut Bio: Deke Slayton 6/93". NASA. June 1993. Retrieved August 8, 2013. 
  2. ^ "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." 
  3. ^ Kranz 2000
  4. ^ "Donald K. Slayton". International Space Hall of Fame. New Mexico Museum of Space History. Retrieved April 17, 2012. 
  5. ^ history office, Peter W. Merlin, compilation done in 1998[clarification needed]
  6. ^ Abell, John C. (September 9, 2009). "September 9, 1982: 3-2-1 … Liftoff! The First Private Rocket Launch". Condé Nast. Retrieved August 8, 2013. 
  7. ^ Slayton & Cassutt 1994
  8. ^ Shepard & Slayton 1994
  9. ^ Slayton & Cassutt 1995, p. 185
  10. ^ Burgess 2011, p. 345
  11. ^ Burgess 2011, p. 350
  12. ^ Warren-Findley, Jannelle (1998). "The Collier as Commemoration: The Project Mercury Astronauts and the Collier Trophy". In Mack, Pamela E. From Engineering Science to Big Science: The NACA and NASA Collier Trophy Research Project Winners. The NASA History Series. Washington, D.C.: NASA History Office, Office of Policy and Plans. p. 165. ISBN 0-16-049640-3. LCCN 97027899. OCLC 37451762. NASA SP-4219. Retrieved January 10, 2011. 
  13. ^ "National Aviation Hall of fame: Our Enshrinees". National Aviation Hall of Fame. Retrieved February 10, 2011. 
  14. ^ "Texas Oncology-Deke Slayton Cancer Center". Retrieved February 10, 2011. 
  15. ^ "Bobbie Slayton dead at 65". Bay Area Citizen (Houston, TX: Houston Community Newspapers). November 29, 2010. Retrieved February 10, 2011. 
  16. ^ "Deke Slayton Memorial Space & Bicycle Museum". Retrieved February 10, 2011. 
  17. ^ The Right Stuff at the Internet Movie Database
  18. ^ Apollo 13 at the Internet Movie Database
  19. ^ Apollo 11 at the Internet Movie Database
  20. ^ From The Earth to the Moon at the Internet Movie Database
  21. ^ Moonshot at the Internet Movie Database


External links[edit]