Words by James DuMond | Intro by David C. Obenour
Having just marked the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s launch, landing and return, James DuMond has translated his love and interest in the space race into tabletop fun with One Small Step. Currently funded on Kickstarter at over $93,000 with six days still to go, the game matches the U.S. and Russia in an escalating competition of personnel recruitment, scientific research, and manned spaceflight as both nations race to be first on the moon.
Focusing on the early competitive aspects of space exploration, for his guest column, James shares the story of one of America’s more diplomatic missions and the man behind it.
Deke Slayton was buckled into the Lunar Module Pilot’s seat of his Apollo space craft on a clear July day in 1975. He was recruited into NASA’s first astronaut group known as “The Mercury 7” in 1959, but this would be his first and only space flight. It was not a mission to the Moon. It was a rendezvous of peace and cooperation with a rival power.
Assigned to the second orbital flight after John Glenn, NASA’s flight surgeons detected an irregular heartbeat. The doctors decided it was too risky for Deke to fly, and he was grounded. The remaining 6 Mercury astronauts convinced NASA administrators that they should assign Deke to NASA’s Manned Space Flight Research Program office.
Deke accepted this new role within NASA, but also tried hard to return to flight status. He quit smoking and drinking coffee. He began a daily exercise routine, and started eating vitamin pills like they were candy. This new lifestyle worked. In 1970 the fibrillation stopped and on March, 1972 Deke was returned to flight status. This was too late to get assigned to the last lunar mission on Apollo 17, but he could and would fly again. That’s all that mattered.
The Skylab program followed Apollo’s lunar missions. Three different crews would occupy America’s first, and (so far) only space station from 1973 to 1974, but Deke would not be one of them. He was training for another, perhaps more important mission – The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. It would be a mission of international cooperation in space. This represented a thaw in the icy Cold War relations between the United Sates and Soviet Union.
Deke was an experienced pilot who flew B-25 bomber missions over German occupied Europe in World War 2. After the war, he was a flight instructor for the Air Force. Despite all this air flight experience, he was a rookie in space flight. Strapping next to him on this historic July day would be another rookie, Vance Brand. Vance would later fly 3 space shuttle flights. The mission commander was Tom Stafford. Tom was recruited in NASA’s 2nd group of astronauts. He flew two Gemini missions and was the commander of Apollo 10 which was the dress rehearsal for Apollo 11’s first lunar landing. This would be Tom Stafford’s last space flight.
Deke’s Apollo space craft launched from the Kennedy Space Center on July 15, 1975. The Soyuz space craft they would rendezvous with was crewed by Alexei Leonov and Valeri Kubasov. It launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome 7 hours later that day. The two ships docked on July 17. When the hatch opened something which was unthinkable 10 years before happened. Tom Stafford speaking Russian, reached out to shake the hand of Alexei Leonov, who likewise greeted him in English.
My family followed this mission with great interest. Deke Slayton was an example of someone who had taken a hard knock that set him back from his dreams but he worked hard to overcome it to achieve them. We admired him for that.
My long time interest in space history motivated me to design a board game that could take players back to the vintage days of space exploration. I am blessed to have the opportunity to work with Academy Games on this project to publish One Small Step. This is the result of design, testing, re-design, testing and more re-design over the course of 5 years. I’m very proud of it and I look forward to sharing it with gamers and others who have a similar interest in space history.