Alton Yates and Toni Yates

As a teenager, Alton Yates (pictured above) did a job that helped send people into space.

yatestaIn 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 (pictured together at left), that—for him—the story starts in high school, shortly after his mother died.

Originally aired August 29, 2014, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

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