Deke!: An Autobiography

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Macmillan, Jun 15, 1995 - Biography & Autobiography - 352 pages
3 Reviews

Deke Slayton was one of the first seven Mercury astronauts--and he might have been the first American in space. Instead, he became the first chief of American Astronaut Corps. It was Deke Slayton who selected the crews who flew the Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab missions. It was Deke Slayton who made Neil Armstrong the first man on the moon.

Deke! is Deke Slayton's' story--told in his own words and in the voices of the men and women who worked with him and knew him best. Deke Slayton's knowledge of how the .S. manned space program worked is the missing piece of every space buff's puzzle. Now, after decades of silence, he tells his priceless stories of those years when American was engaged in the greatest voyage of exploration in human history.

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User Review  - tintinintibet - LibraryThing

Very technical, but the writing is very conversational. Surprisingly thorough in detail, less insightful/behind-the-scenes commentary that I hoped for. Read full review

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User Review  - skrishna - LibraryThing

This book was a great insight into the space program through the eyes of Deke Slayton, one of the Mercury 7 who ended up working at NASA through the early 80's. There is invaluable information here - it's a gold mine for any NASA fan! Read full review

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About the author (1995)

1 BEGINNINGS I guess when it comes to space and aviation, I''ve seen and done a lot in fifty years. My name isn''t the first one to come to mind when somebody says the word astronaut, but I was one of the original Mercury guys--the one who got screwed out of a mission for medical reasons. I hung in there and wound up running the Astronaut Office. Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon because I selected him. I eventually got into space, however, on Apollo-Soyuz--thirteen years after I should have. When I was four years old, growing up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, I was fond of running across the country road to the neighbor''s place. There wasn''t much traffic on that road, but my mother was terrified that I''d get hit by a truck. With three other children younger than me, she had her hands full and her eyes elsewhere. So whenever she let me out into the front yard, she tied me to a tree with a rope. I was tethered like a puppy. I could run around, but only so far. I certainly couldn''t reach the road. Eventually I convinced my mother that I wasn''t going to go running into the road, and I was set free. But I can make the case that ever since I was young I have wanted to explore ... and people have tried to stop me.
It''s not as though there was anywhere to run to. The Slayton farm was a mile north of Leon, Wisconsin, which itself wasn''t much more than a wide spot in Highway 27, which runs south of the city of Sparta. Sparta was a small town in those days--I remember the population well, because it was the same as the number of feet in a mile--5,280. I think it''s now grown almost to a nautical mile, 6,010 or something. In 1959, the year I was selected as a Mercury astronaut, Leon''s populationwas 150. It probably still is, for all I know. It had a general store named the Farmer''s Store, a feed mill, a couple of filling stations, a garage, and two farm implement dealers. I had an older half sister, Verna, and an older half brother, Elwood. My dad, Charles Sherman Slayton, was married once before, but his first wife died when Elwood was born. Elwood was farmed out to an aunt to raise, so he was more like a cousin than a brother ... he didn''t live with us. Verna, who was four years older than Elwood, did live with us. She eventually died of multiple sclerosis. Elwood is still up in Wisconsin. My dad remarried to Victoria Larson, and I''m the oldest from the second marriage. I''ve got a brother, Howard, one year younger. A sister, Bev, a year younger than he is. A sister, Marie--she''s two years younger than Bev. My youngest brother, Dick, is nine years younger than I am. So that''s the family. I should point out that to my family, and to the rest of the world until I was in my thirties, I was always Don Slayton. Nobody called me Deke until I became a test pilot at Edwards in the 1950s. Slayton is supposed to be English, but three of my grandparents came from Norway. The English one we''ve traced back to New England somewhere. My dad used to say he was probably a cabin boy or horse thief. There are a lot of Slaytons around the country, I''ve discovered. I go someplace and somebody pops up to say he''s my relative via this channel, forty times removed. My dad was an avid reader, even though all he had was an eighth grade education. He took the Saturday Evening Post and the Farm Journal. When I was a little older he even became the township tax collector, but managed to stay liked by everyone. He took jobs because farming was a tough way to make a living, especially in the thirties. Nobody had money in those days and by most standards we were poor. We reused Christmas and Valentine''s Day cards to save a few pennies. But, fortunately, being on a farm, we never worried about starving to death. We always had plenty of good, healthy food to eat. We didn''t have fancy clothes, but for farming all you need are old overalls. My dad used to go out and run a road grader for the county, building roads. That''s how we got cash. Verna''s husband really ran the farm. Entertainment was a luxury. I do recall being taken into Sparta once to see my first movie, which turned out to be some Nelson Eddy--Jeanette MacDonald thing. My parents must have liked it, but I didn''t. I''ve hardly been to a movie since. We didn''t even have a radio until I got to high school, because we didn''t have electricity. For a while we had a Delco battery plant set up in the basement of the house. That gave us electricity for lights, but not much. It was only after I left in 1942 that we got 110-volt electricity. No indoor plumbing, either. That didn''t come in until we got electricity. (Growing up the way I did, I''m still amazed at the number of things that are electrical these days. Once I had a conversation with a guy about nuclear war and nuclear winter. He was telling me it wouldn''t bother him: he''d just jump in his car and head out to the country. I pointed out that his car probably had an electronic ignition and if he tried to put gas in the car the pumps were also electrical.) Fishing was something we did all the time. There was a stream down in back, half a mile from where we lived. All you had to do was cut a cane pole and get a piece of string; hooks were cheap. You could get a lot of entertainment for very little. I also started hunting when I was very young: I was using a gun from the time I was six years old, and bought an old sixteen-gauge shotgun--single shot--when I was eight or nine. I think I paid a dollar and a half for it. It didn''t work half the time. It had an outside hammer. I can''t remember how many times I''d find a rabbit and pull to shoot the son of a gun and the gun would misfire. You could say I did a lot of unintended game conservation in those days. We also learned how to deal with animals. These days everybody''s got pets, and we''re probably giving more feed to them than we are to farm animals. When I was young, people would usually have a family dog around, maybe a few stray cats, but nobody paid much attention to them. My wife, Bobbie, and I have some little Lhassa apsos--it gets down to forty degrees and you''ve got to get those little guys inside or they''ll freeze. But those old farm dogs, it would get down below zero and they''d just dig a hole in a hay bale--or in the snow--and curl up, spend the night. Animals are pretty tough if they''re on their own. We also had some sheep. I remember grinding an old mechanical shaft that runs the shearing scissors. You''d usually cut chunks out of the hide here and there, grab a slab of pine tar, slap it on the wound, and off they''d go. We sold a few eggs, anything that would get a penny here or there. Today my brother doesn''t have any chickens ... no pigs ... no sheep, nothing. He''s got dairy cows and that''s it. The problem is, he''s got about half a million dollars invested in machinery. You need about five to six hundred acres to make any financial sense out of it, and he''s only got a couple hundred. So when he was more active(and I guess his son-in-law still is) he did a lot of job-shopping for other people. He''d do his own combining, then he''d go combine for some other people. You can''t find farm lab∨ you''ve got to have the machinery. And you''ve got to have a big base of land to make the machinery pay. Howard''s got three tractors, for example, which is just a hell of a capital investment. Lot of people are just selling off the land or moving out of the farm. There are bigger and bigger chunks with less people. The old family farm is a thing of the past. It happened pretty fast, too. I always thought the Russians could reset to where we were about 1939. They''ve got the people and that style of farming is manpower intensive.
I had to pump water and carry wood before I even started going to school. I started milking cows, first thing morning and night, when I was probably six years old. With our cows in the wintertime, you had to pitch hay and feed in front of them, and shovel manure out from behind them, every day. Summertime they ran in the pasture, so it was a little easier. The crops we raised were mostly to feed the cattle. Corn and hay and oats. Of course, we didn''t have a tractor, we had four horses. The oats were raised for the horses. Harvesting was just plain manual labor. Mow the hay down and let it dry, windrow it. Then it was just hand work. Get a pitchfork and stack it ... come out with the wagons and pitch it onto the wagons, haul it into the barn. Then you''d lift it up to the hay mow and pitch it around up there. It was hot, dirty work, but it was good for you. Today they just chop it and blow it into a silo or bale it. One guy can do a hell of a lot of hay in a day. We had threshing parties where all the neighbors would get together and travel from one farm to the other. You had one guy who was running the threshing machine, which he''d rented out, and he''d come to our farm for the day. All the surrounding neighbors would come in with their wagons and haul in the bundles of oats and corn. Some people would do that while others would carry the grain to the granary. When you finished that guy''s crops, you headed down the road to the next guy''s. The family that was getting the work was always obligated to feed the crew. Ladies would chip in with cooking, too. Some of the biggest meals I''ve ever had were threshing meals. That happened three times a year--one was the grain threshing, another was when they were filling

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