Sunday, July 3, 2011
Deke Slayton was a the son of a poor Wisconsin farmer who went on to join the military as a pilot, not because he loved to fly, but because he saw a plane once and thought it looked like fun. From there he served in WWII, became a test pilot, and then marched into history as one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts. In case you don't know who the Mercury 7 were, they were America's first group of astronauts, handpicked out of thousands of applicants to become the first American's in space. Unfortunately, the flight doctors eventually learned that Deke had a heart murmur, grounding him indefinitely, preventing him from flying in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions that made his contemporaries so famous. Deke's loss was our country's gain, however, because he was then able to take on the job of Director of Flight Crew operations, essentially handling the responsibility of training, working with, and selection America's astronauts. Deke became the astronaut in charge of all of the other astronauts.
If any of that sounds interesting, either the man's life or the events he was able to witness first hand, this book is a must-read, since there was arguably no astronaut more important, influential, or essential to the early days of NASA's mission into space and the moon. As he said in his introduction, he may not be as famous as Neil Armstrong, but he was the guy who decided that Armstrong would be the first person on the moon, so that's pretty cool right there. Anyway, this is a fairly engaging and charming, if somewhat light, look at the life of the most important astronaut during the most crucial moments in the history of the space race.
Oh, and Deke does finally make it into space, but you'll have to read the book to hear more. I suppose the best thing I can say about this autobiography is that it's a good story that not only taught me a lot about the man who wrote it, but made me like him even more than I already had before I read it.