FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Donn Fulton Eisele, an Apollo moon program astronaut who went on to serve as director of the Peace Corps in Thailand, died in Tokyo of a heart attack Tuesday night, his wife said Wednesday. He was 57.
Eisele, who orbited the Earth for 11 days in 1968 as a crew member of the first Apollo mission, owned a private consulting firm--Space Age America--and was in Tokyo to participate in an announcement Thursday about the establishment of a "space camp" to give children a chance to learn about space flight.
"He had a massive coronary," his wife, Susan, said from her home in Fort Lauderdale. "He was in his hotel room. He was dressed in his jogging clothes. He had been out or was about to go out."
Space Camp Announcement
She said her husband's consulting agency was working with Nippon Steel and that he and Alan Shepard, the first American in space, were in Japan for the space camp announcement.
Eisele is survived by his wife and their daughter, Kristin, and son, Andrew. He also had four children by a previous marriage.
Eisele's lifelong interest in flying led him to become an ace test pilot and ultimately an astronaut who served as a crew member on the first shakedown flight of an Apollo moon ship in Earth orbit.
The flight of Apollo 7 in 1968 put America's moon program back on track after a tragic launch pad fire Jan. 27, 1967, that claimed the lives of three astronauts originally set to make the pioneering flight.
Eisele, commander Walter Schirra and Walter Cunningham blasted off atop a Saturn 1-B rocket on Oct. 11, 1968, for an 11-day mission that took them around the world 163 times.
"Certainly we were close friends in the program and have remained in touch and friends since," said Cunningham, who now works with the Houston Chamber of Commerce. "It's one of those things--everybody thinks about space as being dangerous, but at least we design out most of the risks. Those of us who did that as a living are going to end up dying in bed or of a heart attack . . . the same way everybody else does. I'm going to miss him."
Experimental Test Pilot
Eisele, who was born in Columbus, Ohio, received a bachelor of science degree from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1952 and a master's degree in astronautics in 1960 from the Air Force Institute of Technology. After graduation from the Naval Academy, Eisele joined the Air Force and later became an experimental test pilot at the Air Force Special Weapons Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.
Eisele resigned from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 1972 to become director of the Peace Corps in Thailand. After returning to the United States, he became sales manager for Marion Power Shovel Co. and later worked for the investment firm of Oppenheimer & Co.