deke-slayton

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“Catalina has always been known as the land of miles and miles… of miles and miles.”

“The East Rosecrans Gang in The Shoot-Out, aka NASA astronauts on very serious business in Catalina, 1972

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On April 9, 1959, the Mercury Seven were introduced to the world (and each other) for the first time. Scott Carpenter, Gordo Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton were announced as NASA’s original astronauts, “selected to begin training for orbital space flight.”

I’ve never seen anything like it, before or since. It was just a frenzy of light bulbs and questions. It was some kind of roar. I know I stumbled through a couple of answers.

What was the real surprise was watching John Glenn. Someone asked if our wives were behind us. Six of us said, ‘Sure,’ as if that had ever been a real consideration. Glenn piped up with a damn speech about God and family and destiny. We all looked at him, and then each other.”

–Deke Slayton on their first press conference

Originally selected as one of the Mercury 7 (America’s first group of 7 astronauts), Deke Slayton was grounded before his first flight because of an irregular heartbeat.

In spite of the setback, Deke stayed on with NASA to help the then fledgling space program, first as Chief of the Astronaut Office and then as Head of Flight Operations.

Throughout his time at NASA, Slayton never gave up hope that he would one day be restored to flight status. He did everything and anything he could to try and reverse his condition: he exercised, consumed copious amount of vitamins, and quit cigarettes and coffee for good.

Amazingly,16 years after being grounded, Slayton finally fulfilled his dream of earning his astronaut wings when his medical condition suddenly disappeared.

He finally went to space as part of the Apollo-Soyuz Project in 1975. And, at age 51, he became the world’s oldest space rookie.

The crew of Apollo 11 (Armstrong on left, Aldrin seated) at work prepping for their EVA on the moon.  Former Mercury Seven astronaut Donald “Deke” Slayton (far right) looks on.  Slayton was pulled from his scheduled Mercury mission due to heart conditions, but stayed on and served as a coordinator of astronaut activities and performed with distinction.  He would later restored to flight status and flew on the Apollo/Soyuz mission. 

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The Seven amazing astronauts of Mercury 7:

Gus Grissom, Alan Shepard, Deke Slayton, Gordon “Gordo” Cooper, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, and Wally Schirra.

These men were chosen to be the first 7 official astronauts for the United States. They did what many others would be horrified to do, and they did it proudly.