Donn Fulton Eisele (June 23, 1930 – December 2, 1987),[1] (Col, USAF), was a United States Air Force officer, 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.


Early life and educationEdit

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 U.S. Air Force Academy graduated its first class in 1959). Eisele received a Master of Science degree in Astronautics from the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, in 1960.

Flight experienceEdit

Following his graduation from Annapolis, and joining Air Force, Eisele went to flight training at Goodfellow AFB, Texas, Williams AFB, Arizona, and Tyndall AFB, Florida. After receiving his wings in 1954, Eisele served at Wheelus Air Base, Libya, from 1954 to 1956. He attended and graduated from the Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California in 1961. 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.[1]

NASA careerEdit

Main article: Apollo 7
Donn F. Eisele 68P-419-m

Eisele prior launching of Apollo 7

The Apollo 7 Prime Crew - GPN-2000-001160

The Apollo 7 crew: Eisele (l.), Wally Schirra (c.), and Walter Cunningham (r.)

Barbara Eden and Bob Hope NASA

Barbara Eden, Bob Hope, the Apollo 7 astronauts, and Paul Haney (voice of Mission Control) on The Bob Hope Show (November 6, 1968)

Eisele was part of NASA's third group of astronauts, selected in October 1963. In early 1966, Eisele was quietly selected as Pilot for the Apollo 1 crew, along with Command Pilot Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom and Senior Pilot Edward H. White. But after dislocating his shoulder twice during training, Eisele was replaced with Roger B. Chaffee. After corrective surgery in January 1966, Eisele was named to the crew for the second manned Apollo flight, with Command Pilot Walter "Wally" Schirra and Pilot R. Walter Cunningham. At this time, Eisele was promoted to the Senior Pilot position.[2]

But as the launch date approached, his participation was at risk, due to Eisele's involvement in an extramarital affair with a woman who would later become his second wife.[3] Astronaut Office Chief Deke Slayton had warned the crew that they were all "expendable", and that any extramarital affairs must not become public.[3]

Eisele remained in the crew, and on October 11, 1968, Eisele was launched on the 11-day flight of Apollo 7 — the first manned flight test of the third generation United States spacecraft. By this time, the "Senior Pilot" title was changed to " Command Module Pilot". Together with spacecraft commander Schirra and Lunar Module Pilot Cunningham, Eisele performed simulated transposition and docking maneuvers with the upper stage of their Saturn IB launch vehicle, and acted as navigator, taking star sightings and aligning the spacecraft's guidance and navigation platform. The crew completed eight successful test firing maneuvers of the Service Module's propulsion engine. They also tested the performance of all spacecraft systems, and broadcast the first live televised coverage of crew activities.

Apollo 7 was placed in an Earth-orbit with an apogee of 153.5 nautical miles (Template:Convert/round km; Template:Convert/round mi) and perigee of 122.6 nautical miles (Template:Convert/round km; Template:Convert/round mi).[1] 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 USS Essex and only .3 miles (Template:Convert/round km) from the predicted target).[citation needed] 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 extramarital 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.

Post-NASA careerEdit

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.

Personal lifeEdit

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 widow Susan, their two children, and three of his four children from his previous marriage to Harriet. Eisele was cremated in Japan, and his ashes were buried in Arlington National Cemetery.


Eisele was an Eagle Scout, a member of Tau Beta Pi, and a Freemason, belonging to Luther B. Turner Lodge # 732 in Columbus, Ohio.[4]

Awards and honorsEdit

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.[5]


A family-approved account of Donn Eisele's life appears in the 2007 book In the Shadow of the Moon. Eisele's memoirs have been published in 2016 under the title Apollo Pilot.[6]

In the 1998 HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, Eisele was portrayed by John Mese. In the final three episodes of the 2015 ABC television series The Astronaut Wives Club, Eisele was portrayed by Ryan Doom.

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.[7]

See alsoEdit


External linksEdit

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