The Deke Slayton lapel pin, gold, inset diamond
Lot 1159
US$ 80,000 - 120,000
£48,000 - 71,000
Auction Details
DEKE SLAYTON'S FLOWN LAPEL PIN. DEKE SLAYTON'S FLOWN LAPEL PIN. The Deke Slayton lapel pin, gold, inset diamond
Lot Details
Lapel pin, 14k gold, inset diamond at top, in the form of three trajectories merging into a star, encircled by an ellipse representing orbital flight, 15 by 10 mm.

DEKE SLAYTON'S ASTRONAUT LAPEL PIN, PRESENTED TO HIM BY THE APOLLO 1 WIDOWS AND FLOWN TO THE LUNAR SURFACE BY ARMSTRONG ON APOLLO 11. An extraordinary artifact whose history spans the Apollo program, from the tragic lows to the triumphant highs.

The MSC's Space News Roundup of May 13, 1964, announced that "NASA's twenty-nine astronauts are wearing a new emblem, unofficially signifying the unity of the Mercury-Gemini-Apollo flight teams ... The device was adopted late in 1963 by the astronaut team when it was evident that the Mercury '7' lapel pin, awarded to Mercury pilots, excluded new astronaut team members." The pins were issued in silver and gold versions—silver when the astronaut was appointed, and gold when he completed his first mission.

Donald "Deke" Slayton [1924-1993] was one of the original "Mercury Seven" astronauts announced in April 1959, and was scheduled to pilot the Mercury-Atlas 7 mission. A heart condition discovered in August 1959 relieved him of his flight assignment, and instead he was appointed Coordinator of Astronaut Activities and later Director of Flight Crew Operations. Slayton was the de facto "Chief Astronaut," managing the crews, training with them, and assigning them to missions—but always with the frustration of knowing he would not fly. "All of those guys adored him," according to Deke's wife Bobbie.

In 1966 Slayton selected Grissom, White and Chaffee to fly the first Apollo mission. As a token of their appreciation, the crew planned to have a custom gold astronaut pin made, identical to the standard one but with a single diamond inset into the star. They would carry this pin into space, and present it to Slayton afterwards.

A launch pad fire during training killed the Apollo 1 crew. Slayton recalled: "Since what those guys planned could never happen now ... the wives, for whatever reason, chose this, the saddest and grimmest occasion in their lives, to present that pin to me. I was absolutely overwhelmed. Flattened. It was a gesture I'll never forget" (Moon Shot, p 211). Slayton can be seen with the pin on his lapel in a photograph of Mission Control during the Apollo 13 emergency return, and in a 1971 official portrait. According to his wife, Slayton considered the pin "a memorial to his fallen friends": "He was never without that pin ... If he had a suit coat on, the pin was always there. It went from suit to suit."

Slayton's "astronaut wings," as he called the pin, remained unflown until "one week in July 1969, when Neil Armstrong carried them to and from the moon" in his Personal Preference Kit (Deke!, pp 191-192). Again, in a book he co-authored with Alan Shepard, Slayton states: "There was yet another small cargo—private and precious—carried by Neil Armstrong to the moon. It was not divulged at the time, but he carried the diamond-studded astronaut pin made especiallly for Deke Slayton" (Moon Shot, p 247). Upon return to Earth, the pin remained in quarantine before being returned to Slayton.

None of the Apollo 11 crew has ever shared an inventory of the contents of their Personal Preference Kits. However, the contents had to be approved by Deke Slayton in his role as Director of Flight Crew Operations, and he had copies of the PPK manifests (First Man, p 522).

After a medical review in 1972, Slayton was eventually certified eligible for manned space flight, and served as Apollo Docking Module Pilot on ASTP in 1975. He was accordingly presented with the standard gold astronaut pin, but continued to wear the present pin, which represented much more to him.

Included is a three-page letter signed by Bobbie Slayton, Deke's wife, relating the history and provenance of the pin.

References: Deke Slayton and Alan Shepard, Moon Shot: the Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon, 1994; Mark Mayfield, "Deke's Pin," article and interview with Bobbie Slayton in Launch Magazine, July/August 2008; Deke Slayton, Deke! U.S. Manned Space: From Mercury to the Shuttle, 1994; James R. Hansen, First Man: the Life of Neil Armstrong, 2005.