Deke Slayton

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Deke Slayton prepares for a pre-mission test leading up to his Apollo-Soyuz flight

Donald Kent 'Deke' Slayton (March 1, 1924June 13, 1993) was an American astronaut.

Slayton was born on a farm near Sparta, Wisconsin. A childhood farm equipment accident left him with a severed left ring finger. He entered the United States Army Air Force as a cadet in 1942. He trained as a B-25 pilot and flew 56 combat missions over Europe during World War II.

After the war, Slayton earned a bachelor of science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Minnesota.

A US Air Force pilot, he was chosen as one of the original seven American Astronauts in 1959. Slayton was scheduled to fly in 1962 on the second orbital flight (to have been named Delta-7), but due to an erratic heart rate (idiopathic atrial fibrillation), he was grounded, and his place was taken by Scott Carpenter. Slayton was the only member of the Mercury Seven who did not fly on the Mercury program.

Slayton resigned his Air Force commission in 1963 and worked for NASA in a civilian capacity as head of Astronaut selection. In this capacity he had the decisive role of choosing the crews for the Gemini and Apollo programs including the decision of who would be the first man on the moon. Slayton remained extremely loyal to the other Mercury astronauts who remained in the space program ensuring they were given assignments.

A long medical program led to him being restored to full flight status in 1973, when he selected himself as docking module pilot for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, designed to allow 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 Stafford and Vance D. Brand conducted crew transfers with cosmonauts Aleksey A. Leonov and Valeriy Kubasov.

Upon his return, he became Head of Shuttle Approach & Landing Test Program for NASA's Space Shuttle program.

Slayton retired from NASA in 1982. After his retirement, he served as president of Space Services, Inc., a Houston based company he founded to develop rockets for small commercial payloads. He helped design and build a rocket called the "Conestoga", which was successfully launched on September 9, 1982. He also became interested in aviation racing.

Slayton teamed up with fellow astronaut Alan Shepard to write the book, Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon, in 1988. The book was made into a documentary film of the same name in 1994, but Slayton died before filming was completed. He also penned an autobiography entitled Deke!: An Autobiography.

Shortly after he moved to League City, Texas in 1992, Slayton was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He succumbed to the illness the following summer.

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

The Deke Slayton Cancer Center (located on Medical Center Blvd. in Webster, Texas) was named in his honor.


  • Moon Shot, The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon - ISBN: 1570361673
  • Deke!: An Autobiography - ISBN:031285918X

External links

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