38 years ago today, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project made its first successful docking between the United States’ Apollo CM/SM, and the Soviet Union’s Soyuz spacecraft. The remarkable thing to me about this mission is not that it presaged future American-Russian collaboration, but that it was Deke Slayton’s first (and last) spaceflight. Poor Deke got grounded in September 1962 on account of his heart; what some might have dubbed “Flight Surgeon Horseshit” (hat tip: Tom Hanks, as Jim Lovell, the movie “Apollo 13.”)
I remember seeing an extended interview with Deke in the late 1980s wherein he was still unhappy with how NASA kept him on the ground throughout the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs—to include all of the moon landings. At least Alan Shepard got to fly on Apollo 14. Deke got the “rump” mission. Better than nothing, I guess. But you could tell from the way he talked that Deke felt like he’d been the victim of a politicized process that was perhaps too cautious, in retrospect? After all, it was technical oversight that got Deke’s friend Gus Grissom killed, and which almost killed the crew of Apollo 13, not medical boo-boos. Nevertheless Deke flew, and contributed greatly to the success of the Apollo program in particular as the “boss” of the astronaut corps. Deke died in 1993 long before the International Space Station became reality. I wonder what Deke would have to say about U.S. astronauts having to hitch rides on Soyuz missions, because we cancelled the Shuttle program without having a replacement ready to operate?