Produced by Michael Garofalo and Jud Esty-Kendall for StoryCorps.
“It was like driving an automobile at 100 miles per hour and running into a stone wall.”
As a teenager, Alton Yates did a job that helped send people into space.
In the mid-1950s, before NASA existed, Yates was part of a small group of Air Force volunteers who tested the effects of high speeds on the body. They were strapped to rocket-propelled sleds that hurtled down a track at more 600 miles per hour and stopped in a matter of seconds. These experiments helped prove that space travel was safe for humans.
At StoryCorps, Yates told his daughter, Toni, that—for him—the story starts in high school, shortly after his mother died.