Donn F. Eisele

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Donn F. Eisele
Eisele donn.jpg
NASA astronaut
Nationality American
Born (1930-06-23)June 23, 1930
Columbus, Ohio, U.S.
Died December 2, 1987(1987-12-02) (aged 57)
Tokyo, Japan
Resting place
Arlington National Cemetery [1][2]
Other names
Donn Fulton Eisele
Other occupation
Test pilot
USNA, B.S. 1952
AFIT, M.S. 1960
Rank Colonel, USAF
Time in space
10d 20h 08m
Selection 1963 NASA Group 3
Missions Apollo 7
Mission insignia
Retirement June 1, 1970
Awards Dfc-usa.jpg Distinguished Flying Cross
NASA Exceptional Service Medal
AIAA Haley Astronautics Award
National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Special Trustees Award
NASA Distinguished Service Medal.jpg NASA Distinguished Service Medal (posthumously)

Donn Fulton Eisele (June 23, 1930 – December 2, 1987),[3] (Col, USAF), was a United States Air Force officer, test pilot, and later a NASA astronaut. He occupied the Command Module Pilot seat during the flight of Apollo 7 in 1968. After retiring from both NASA and the Air Force, he became the Peace Corps country director for Thailand, before moving into private business.[3]


Early life and education[edit]

Eisele was born June 23, 1930 in Columbus, Ohio, and graduated from West High School in 1948. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from the United States Naval Academy in 1952, and chose a commission in the United States Air Force (the U.S. Air Force Academy graduated its first class in 1959). Eisele received a Master of Science degree in Astronautics from the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, in 1960.

Flight experience[edit]

Following his graduation from Annapolis, and joining Air Force, Eisele went to flight training at Goodfellow AFB, Texas, Williams AFB, Arizona, and Tyndall AFB, Florida. After receiving his wings in 1954, Eisele served at Wheelus Air Base, Libya, from 1954 to 1956. He attended and graduated from the Aerospace Research Pilot School (Class 62A) at Edwards Air Force Base, California in 1961. Eisele was a project engineer and experimental test pilot at the Air Force Special Weapons Center at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico. He flew experimental test flights in support of special weapons development programs.

He logged more than 4,200 hours flying time, 3,600 of which were in jet aircraft.[3]

NASA career[edit]

Main article: Apollo 7
Eisele prior launching of Apollo 7
The Apollo 7 crew: Eisele (l.), Wally Schirra (c.), and Walter Cunningham (r.)
Barbara Eden, Bob Hope, the Apollo 7 astronauts, and Paul Haney (voice of Mission Control) on The Bob Hope Show (November 6, 1968)

Eisele was part of NASA's third group of astronauts, selected in October 1963. In early 1966, Eisele was quietly selected as Pilot for the Apollo 1 crew, along with Command Pilot Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom and Senior Pilot Edward H. White. But after dislocating his shoulder twice during training, Eisele was replaced with Roger B. Chaffee. After corrective surgery in January 1966, Eisele was named to the crew for the second manned Apollo flight, with Command Pilot Walter "Wally" Schirra and Pilot R. Walter Cunningham. At this time, Eisele was promoted to the Senior Pilot position.[4]

But as the launch date approached, his participation was at risk, due to Eisele's involvement in an extramarital affair with a woman who would later become his second wife.[5] Astronaut Office Chief Deke Slayton had warned the crew that they were all "expendable", and that any extramarital affairs must not become public.[5]

Eisele remained in the crew, and on October 11, 1968, Eisele was launched on the 11-day flight of Apollo 7 – the first manned flight test of the third generation United States spacecraft. By this time, the Senior Pilot title was changed to Command Module Pilot. Together with spacecraft commander Schirra and Lunar Module Pilot Cunningham, Eisele performed simulated transposition and docking maneuvers with the upper stage of their Saturn IB launch vehicle, and acted as navigator, taking star sightings and aligning the spacecraft's guidance and navigation platform. The crew completed eight successful test firing maneuvers of the Service Module's propulsion engine. They also tested the performance of all spacecraft systems, and broadcast the first live televised coverage of crew activities.

Apollo 7 was placed in an Earth-orbit with an apogee of 153.5 nautical miles (284.3 km; 176.6 mi) and perigee of 122.6 nautical miles (227.1 km; 141.1 mi).[3] The 260-hour, four-and-a-half million mile (7.25 Gm) shakedown flight was successfully concluded on October 22, 1968, with splashdown occurring in the Atlantic, eight miles (15 km) from the carrier USS Essex and only 0.3 miles (0.48 km) from the predicted target.[3] Eisele logged 260 hours in space.[3]

Eisele served as backup Command Module Pilot for the 1969 Apollo 10 flight. He was excluded from Apollo 13 because of his reluctance to interrupt their tests aboard Apollo 7 for public television coverage NASA requested, and for the extramarital affair that had almost caused his replacement. Eisele resigned from the Astronaut Office in 1970 and became technical assistant for manned spaceflight at the NASA Langley Research Center, a position he occupied until retiring from both NASA and the Air Force in 1972.

Post-NASA career[edit]

In July 1972, Eisele became Country Director of the U.S. Peace Corps in Thailand. Returning from Thailand two years later, he became Sales Manager for Marion Power Shovel, a division of Dresser Industries.[3] Eisele then handled private and corporate accounts for the investment firm of Oppenheimer & Company. He also participated in the 1986 Concorde Comet Chase flights out of Miami and New York.

Personal life[edit]

Eisele died at the age of 57 of a heart attack while on a 1987 business trip to Tokyo, Japan, where he was to attend the opening of a new Space Camp patterned on the one at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Eisele was cremated in Japan, and his ashes were buried in Arlington National Cemetery.


Eisele was an Eagle Scout, a member of Tau Beta Pi, and a Freemason, belonging to Luther B. Turner Lodge # 732 in Columbus, Ohio.[6][3]

Awards and honors[edit]

Among the honors he received during his career were the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, the Air Force Senior Pilot Astronaut Wings, and the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross. He was a co-recipient of the AIAA 1969 Haley Astronautics Award and was presented the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Special Trustees Award in 1969.[3]

In 2008, NASA posthumously awarded Eisele the NASA Distinguished Service Medal for his Apollo 7 mission.[7]


A family-approved account of Donn Eisele's life appears in the 2007 book In the Shadow of the Moon. Eisele's posthumously discovered memoir Apollo Pilot was published by University of Nebraska Press in 2017.[8][9]

In the 1998 HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, Eisele was portrayed by John Mese. In the final three episodes of the 2015 ABC television series The Astronaut Wives Club, Eisele was portrayed by Ryan Doom.

Susan Eisele Black, on behalf of her late husband, donated a sample of a moon rock to Broward County Main Library on October 23, 2007. Broward County Library, located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is the only library in the United States to have a lunar rock on display. The moon rock is exhibited at science museums and schools.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Donn F. Eisele Colonel, United States Air Force". Arlington National Cemetery. Retrieved June 21, 2016. 
  2. ^ "Donn F. Eisele". Find a Grave. Retrieved June 21, 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Astronaut Bio: Donn F. Eisele". NASA Johnson Space Center. Retrieved August 2, 2015. 
  4. ^ Teitel, Amy Shira (December 4, 2013). "How Donn Eisele Became "Whatshisname," the Command Module Pilot of Apollo 7". Popular Science. Retrieved June 22, 2016. 
  5. ^ a b French, Francis (February 22, 2002). "'I worked with NASA, not for NASA': An interview with astronaut Walter "Wally" Schirra". collectSPACE. p. 4 (of 5). Retrieved May 1, 2012. 
  6. ^ ""America's Astronauts" - Masonic First Day Covers". The Phoenixmasonry Masonic Museum and Library. Retrieved June 21, 2016. 
  7. ^ "First Apollo flight crew last to be honored". collectSPACE. Retrieved October 20, 2008. 
  8. ^ "Outward Odyssey: A People's History of Spaceflight Series". Retrieved June 22, 2016. 
  9. ^ Robbins, Gary. "The guts and glory of forgotten astronaut Donn Eisele". 
  10. ^ "First Library in America to Receive a Moon Rock for Public Display" (PDF). Broward County Commission. October 9, 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 16, 2008. 

External links[edit]