On Thursday April 9, 1959, the seven Mercury astronauts were introduced to the world at a press conference. Six nervous men sat shifting in their seats at a long table facing a room full of press; John Glenn was the only one smiled at the cameras, pleased as punch to be there. Sitting in alphabetical order, Deke Slayton sat on the far left of the table, fingers intertwined on the table in front of him looking up at the room with only his eyes. On his right sat Alan Shepard, leaning back looking much more calm. Slayton’s mannerisms could be chalked up to nerves, or it could be discomfort after a prank Shepard played moments earlier. (Left, Shepard and Slayton as the press conference began on April 9, 1959.)
Before they had taken their seats, the astronauts lined up in order. In the brief calm before the media storm, Slayton confided in Shepard his true feelings on the day’s events. “I’m nervous as hell,” he admitted. Both agreed they hoped it would be over in a hurry. Flying jets in combat was one thing; being on display in front of the press was a whole new, scary ballgame.
Shepard looked at Slayton, specifically at his tie. “Those, uh, bow ties coming back in style?” he asked.
“What’s wrong with my damn tie?” Slayton shot back.
“Well, nothing really,” replied Shepard. “I doubt the cameras will pick up that smeared egg or catsup or whatever that guck it on it.”
Slayton tried in vain to bring his bow tie into his line of sight. He was still fussing with it as NASA officials sat the astronauts in their seats at the long table and placed a model Mercury capsule and Atlas rocket on the floor in front of them. The bright lights came on, followed by camera flashes as everyone in the room vied for a prime shot of the nation’s heros who had yet to do anything as astronauts. (Above, Schirra, Shepard, Grissom, Slayton, Glenn who is still the only one smiling, Carpenter and Cooper pose after the press conference.)
On the left end of the table, Shepard noticed Slayton was still fidgeting with his tie. “There’s nothing on your tie,” he finally admitted. Slayton looked up to see Shepard smiling at him. “Gotcha.”