Donn Eisele was born June 23, 1930, in Columbus, Ohio. He graduated from West High School and earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the United States Naval Academy in 1952. He received a Master of Science degree in Astronautics in 1960 from the Air Force Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Upon graduation from the Naval Academy, he chose an Air Force career. He flew jet fighters and became a test pilot, advancing to the rank of colonel. He was also a project engineer and experimental test pilot at the Air Force Special Weapons Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. In this capacity, he flew experimental test flights in support of special weapons development programs. Donn Eisele logged more than 4,200 hours flying time, including 3,600 hours in jet aircraft.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) selected Eisele as an astronaut in October 1963. On October 11, 1968, he was the Command Module pilot on Apollo 7, NASA’s first manned mission since the Apollo 1 crew was killed in a launch pad fire on January 27, 1967. The Apollo capsule had been almost completely redesigned and Apollo 7 was a crucial test of the craft America hoped would take astronauts to the moon. With Eisele were Commander Walter Schirra and Lunar Module Pilot Walter Cunningham. The 263-hour, 4,500,000-mile flight of Apollo 7 was a complete success and provided NASA with confidence to send the next Apollo crew, Apollo 8, into orbit around the Moon.
After liftoff from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, Apollo 7 reached earth-orbit with an apogee of 153.5 nautical miles and perigee of 122.6 nautical miles. Eisele participated in and executed maneuvers enabling Apollo 7 to perform exercises in transposition and docking and lunar orbit rendezvous with the S-IVB stage of their Saturn IB launch vehicle. The crew also completed eight successful test ignitions, and maneuvering ignitions, of the service module propulsion engine, measured the accuracy of performance of all spacecraft systems and provided the first effective television transmissions of onboard crew activities. The flight was successfully concluded on October 22, 1968, with a splashdown in the Atlantic, only three-tenths of a mile from their original target. Eisele later served as backup Command Module pilot for the Apollo 10 mission in 1969.
In July 1972 Colonel Eisele retired from the Air Force and left the space program to become Director of the U.S. Peace Corps in Thailand. In his career he received the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, Air Force Senior Pilot Astronaut Wings, Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross; was a co-recipient of the AIAA 1969 Haley Astronautics Award and was presented with the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Special Trustees Award in 1969.
After leaving the Peace Corps, Donn Eisele was Sales Manager for Marion Power Shovel Company before handling private and corporate accounts for the investment firm of Oppenheimer & Company. Colonel Eisele was with Prudential-Bache Securities of Fort Lauderdale, Florida when he died of a heart attack while on a business trip to Tokyo, Japan on December 2, 1987.