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A Wisconsin Astronaut

July 21, 2019



Donald Slayton was born on a farm in part of Wisconsin's tobacco country near Leon,Wisconsin in 1924. America's involvement in World War II began the year he graduated high school in nearby Sparta. Slayton joined the Army Air Corps and flew 56 missions as a bomber pilot in Italy and another seven missions over Japan at the very end of the war. He studied aeronautical engineering at the University of Minnesota and eventually became a test pilot at Edwards Air Force base in California. Deke was one of the original Mercury Seven astronauts, the elite few who would lead America into space. For awhile it looked like he might be the first American in orbit. He was grounded by a suspected heart condition. NASA pulled him from active astronaut duty and made him Director of Flight Operations. Among his many duties was selecting the crews for all upcoming missions. Slayton chose Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins for the moon landing and later chose fellow Wisconsinite Jim Lovell to head the ill fated Apollo 13 mission. (It's fun to note that upon splashdown in their return to earth, the three lunar astronauts were greeted by Navy Seal Clancy Hatleberg of Chippewa Falls, who opened the hatch of their command module and promptly sprayed them with disinfectant.)  In the end,Deke DID get to fulfill his original mission as an astronaut. In 1972 he was cleared to fly and in 1975 at the age of 51, he lead the American half of the Apollo-Soyuz project that saw the first docking of Russian and American spacecraft in orbit. Slayton passed away at the age of 69 at his home in Texas in 1993. In 1966 Slayton and Lovell did a whirlwind publicity tour of Wisconsin for NASA. Slayton made stops in Sparta and later at the state capital in Madison where the visibly choked up Astronaut recieved a medal on behalf of "all the people of the the state of Wisconsin". Slayton passed away at his home in Texas in 1993, he was 69 years old. Below is some wishful thinking from the La Crosse Tribune during the beginnings of the space program...with a nice shot of Deke Slayton's parents.