“It was like driving an automobile at a hundred miles an hour and running into a stone wall.”

As a teenager, Alton Yates (L) 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.

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After leaving the Air Force in 1959, Alton Yates became involved with the Civil Rights Movement in his hometown of Jacksonville, FL. On August 27, 1960, he attended a sit-in that turned violent, and became known as Ax Handle Day.

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Recorded in Jacksonville, Florida
Music Info: "1986" by Fredrik from the album Na Na Ni.
Produced by Michael Garofalo and Jud Esty-Kendall
Facilitated by Jeremy Helton
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