In April of 1959, the introduction of America’s first seven astronauts was front-page news around the country, and especially for the La Crosse Tribune, which touted the selection of Sparta’s Deke Slayton for the Mercury program. At the time, Slayton was a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base. NASA declared that all seven men would get identical training, and the first one to go into space would not be notified until the day of the mission. In reality, the agency chose Alan Shepard to make the first flight four months before his Mercury mission in 1961, weeks after the Soviets put Yuri Gagarin in orbit. Slayton was supposed to fly in 1962, but a medical problem kept him grounded until 1975.
On the same day that the astronauts made their debut, the future president who would push the U.S. to put a man on the moon was visiting Wisconsin. Massachusetts Senator John Kennedy was already being considered a likely candidate in the 1960 presidential race. Kennedy was in the state to speak at the annual dinner for the Milwaukee Press Club.
Around Flag Day in ’59, a La Crosse woman announced that she would fly her old 46-star flag on the 4th of July. Mrs. M.B. Stenger said the flag, about 50 years old, had been in her family since shortly after star #46 was added for Oklahoma. That summer, a new 49-star flag was adopted, to celebrate the addition of Alaska…in 1959, yesterday in La Crosse.