Portrait of the American ASTP Astronaut Donald ''Deke'' K. Slayton

Donald “Deke” Slayton

Director of Flight Crew Operations

Donald “Deke” Slayton was born March 1st, 1924, in Wisconsin. He became a pilot in the U.S. Air Force during WWII. Afterward, he graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1949 with a Bachelor’s in Aeronautical Engineering. He re-joined active duty in 1951 and attended U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School. This status allowed him to be selected as a candidate for Project Mercury, and he joined six others in the first astronaut group selected for the program.

Because of a heart condition discovered in August 1959, Slayton was unable to fly in a single Mercury mission and was grounded not only by NASA, but also by the Air Force. He stayed at NASA anyway and became the Director of Flight Crew Operations. Slayton was responsible for directing the activities of the astronaut office, the aircraft operations office, the flight crew integration division, the crew training and simulation division, the crew procedures division, and even selecting crews for both the Gemini and Apollo missions.

In 1972, Slayton’s flight status was restored following a comprehensive review of his medical status by NASA’s Director of Life Sciences and the Federal Aviation Agency. He joined the crew of the Apollo-Soyuz flight. Afterward, he moved into the Space Shuttle program, becoming head of the Approach and Landing Tests and later the manager for Orbital Flight Testing. Slayton retired from NASA in 1982. He was president of Space Services Inc., of Houston, a company he founded to develop rockets for small commercial payloads. He holds the record for the longest-serving astronaut in history.