The Rocket-Sled Airman Who Helped Pave the Way to Space

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.

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Alton Yates participating in experiments on the effects of high-speed space travel on humans.

At StoryCorps, Yates told his daughter, Toni, that—for him—the story starts in high school, shortly after his mother died.