- Category : Astronaut
- Type : GP
- Profile : 4/6 - Opportunistic / Role Model
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : RAX The Vessel of Love 2
Donn F. Eisele (June 23, 1930–December 2, 1987) was a United States Air Force test pilot and later a NASA astronaut. He occupied the command module pilot seat during the flight of Apollo 7 in 1968. After retiring from both NASA and the Air Force, he became the Peace Corps country director for Thailand, before moving into private business.
Donn Fulton Eisele was born June 23, 1930 in Columbus, Ohio, and graduated from West High School in 1948. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from the United States Naval Academy in 1952 and chose a commission in the United States Air Force (the Air Force Academy was still under construction). Eisele received a Master of Science degree in Astronautics in 1960 from the Air Force Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.
Eisele was a project engineer and experimental test pilot at the Air Force Special Weapons Center at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico. He flew experimental test flights in support of special weapons development programs. He logged more than 4,200 hours flying time, 3,600 of which were in jet aircraft.
Eisele was part of NASA's third group of astronauts, selected in October 1963. In mid-1966, Eisele, Wally Schirra, and Walter Cunningham were announced as the crew for the second manned Apollo flight. But as the launch date approached, his participation and Schirra's was at risk; this was due to rumors that Schirra was a "caretaker commander" who would be replaced by Deke Slayton once the latter received medical clearance, and due to Eisele's involvement in an extramarital affair with a woman who would later become his second wife. Slayton had warned the crew that they were all "expendable", and that any extramarital affairs must not become public.
Both Schirra and Eisele remained in the crew, and on October 11, 1968, Eisele occupied the Command Module Pilot seat for the 11-day flight of Apollo 7 — the first manned flight test of the third generation United States spacecraft. Together with spacecraft Commander Schirra and Lunar Module Pilot Cunningham, Eisele participated in maneuvers that enabled the crew to perform exercises in transposition and docking and lunar orbit rendezvous with their Saturn IB launch vehicle. The crew completed eight successful test and maneuvering ignitions of the service module propulsion engine. They also measured the accuracy of performance of all spacecraft systems, and were part of the first live televised coverage of crew activities.
Apollo 7 was placed in an Earth-orbit with an apogee of 153.5 nautical miles (284.3 km; 176.6 mi) and perigee of 122.6 nautical miles (227.1 km; 141.1 mi). The 260-hour, four-and-a-half million mile (7.25 Gm) shakedown flight was successfully concluded on October 22, 1968, with splashdown occurring in the Atlantic, eight miles (15 km) from the carrier Essex and only .3 miles (0.48 km) from the predicted target). Eisele logged 260 hours in space.
Eisele served as backup command module pilot for the 1969 Apollo 10 flight. He was excluded from Apollo 13 because of his reluctance to interrupt their tests aboard Apollo 7 for public television coverage NASA requested, and for the extra-marital affair that had almost caused his replacement. Eisele resigned from the Astronaut Office in 1970 and became technical assistant for manned spaceflight at the NASA Langley Research Center, a position he occupied until retiring from both NASA and the Air Force in 1972.
In July 1972, Eisele became Country Director of the U.S. Peace Corps in Thailand. Returning from Thailand two years later, he became Sales Manager for Marion Power Shovel, a division of Dresser Industries. Eisele then handled private and corporate accounts for the investment firm of Oppenheimer & Company. He also participated in the 1986 Concorde Comet Chase flights out of Miami and New York.
Eisele was an Eagle Scout, a member of Tau Beta Pi, and a Freemason, belonging to Luther B. Turner Lodge #732 in Columbus, Ohio.
Among the honors he received during his career were the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, the Air Force Senior Pilot Astronaut Wings, and the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross. He was a co-recipient of the AIAA 1969 Haley Astronautics Award and was presented the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Special Trustees Award in 1969.
In 2008, NASA posthumously awarded Eisele the NASA Distinguished Service Medal for his Apollo 7 mission.
Death and tributes
Eisele died at the age of 57 of a heart attack while on a 1987 business trip to Tokyo, Japan, where he was to attend the opening of a new Space Camp patterned on the one at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. He was survived by his wife Susan, their two children, and his four children from a previous marriage. Eisele was cremated in Japan, and his ashes were buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
A family-approved account of Donn Eisele's life appears in the 2007 book In the Shadow of the Moon. In the 1998 miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, Eisele was portrayed by John Mese.
Susan Eisele Black, on behalf of her late husband, donated a sample of a moon rock to Broward County Main Library on October 23, 2007. Broward County Library, located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is the only library in the United States to have a lunar rock on display. The moon rock is exhibited at science museums and schools.