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Hometown Tourist: Deke Slayton Memorial Space & Bicycle Museum

A blend of American history, modes of transportation and one man’s unending determination all add up to an educational experience that’s out of this world.

The Deke Slayton Memorial Space and Bicycle Museum in Sparta, Wisconsin explores the city’s rich history with the bike.

"Sparta is known as the Bicycling Capital of America,’ Alli Karrels, the museum’s executive director said. "We have the very first rails to trails program in the country, where old railroad tracks are converted in to bike trails."

The museum also shows another claim to fame.

"We are the only place in the whole state of Wisconsin where you can see a real piece of moon rock, and we have it in honor of Deke Slayton and all the work he’s done for NASA."

Sparta native Deke Slayton was picked out of hundreds of applicants to become one of the Mercury Seven, known as America’s first astronauts. The museum is built out of tribute, exploring America’s fascination with transportation, and how one method, lead to another.

"If you look back at the early aviators, the Wright brothers, they built bicycles. So you look at their airplane, it has a lot of bicycle parts," Laurel Brandt, museum board member said. 

As a seasoned pilot, flying was a pastime for Slayton. Now with the recent addition of one of his planes, visitors can get a sense of what he felt in the sky. 

"It’s a whole different world once you get up in the air, you leave the world behind. Any pilot will tell you, it becomes a real passion to get in to the air," Brandt added. 

Although a heart condition grounded Slayton for 16 years, it didn’t stop him from being a key figure in NASA’s history. He served as the first Chief of the Astronaut Office, choosing people for space missions, such as picking Neil Armstrong to be the first man on the moon, and setting rules and regulations that shaped NASA for years to come.

Eventually Slayton’s condition improved, and in 1975 he finally made it in to space on the Apollo–Soyuz flight.

Upon his retirement from NASA, President Gerald Ford asked Slayton, if he had any advice for children, and Slayton gave his answer simply.

"Deke Slayton said, ‘Decide what you want to do, and never give up until you’ve done it’,"  Karrels added.

A testament that sometimes it pays, to reach for the moon. 

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For another adventure make sure to check back next Wednesday for a new episode of Hometown Tourist, and a chance to make the La Crosse area your own.


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