I’ve never seen Apollo 13. My husband had to drag me to see Interstellar and I can’t even with Star Wars. All this to say that space? Is not my thing.
So I too was surprised when The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel landed on my radar. I hate to admit that it wasn’t until the book became the basis of the show of the same name that I actually went out and bought a copy of the book. I read it before I watched the show though! And no TV show covers, Jennine!
The Astronaut Wives Club tells the behind-the-scenes story of the wives of these new American heroes. Jo Schierra, Louise Shepard, Marge Slayton, Betty Grissom, Trudy Cooper, Annie Glenn and Rene Carpenter were charged with keeping the home fires burning while letting Life magazine into their lives to document every single moment. Their husbands were away working all the time, but the wives had to make sure that everything looked Stepford perfect so as not to jeopardize their husbands’ chances. NASA didn’t want any surprises or scandals.
Like I said, I’m not a fan of space so a lot of the information in the book was new to me. I didn’t know that Annie Glenn had a really bad stutter or that her husband was so protective of her that he supported her when Lyndon Johnson wanted to come in with network cameras to interview her and she said no. To the Vice President! I didn’t know that Trudy Cooper existed let alone that she was an accomplished fighter pilot in her own right, getting ready to divorce her husband Gordo when he got the call from NASA. NASA didn’t want any divorced men in their program so Trudy came back.
These women were thrown together into the spotlight without any support or guidance from the organization that had turned their lives upside down. I honestly don’t know how they did it. Keppel goes through the milestones of those first Mercury 7 flights, how the wives bonded and supported each other, how they tried to tamp down their competitive spirits, used as they were to doing everything they could to support their husbands. Then the New Nine were introduced. These men were part of the Gemini program, tasked with getting a man on the moon. With these nine new astronauts came nine new wives, who were going to share the spotlight and the perks that came with being an astronaut’s wife.
Once these additional wives arrived in the book, it all became a little hard to follow. There were nine new wives to keep track of as well as their husbands and children and the relationships between the nine as well as who got along with who in the original. I had just started to be able to keep the Mercury 7 families straight and it was almost too much to add more at that point. The Astronaut Wives Club is not a long book – 270 pages all told. I can see how it would be great inspiration for the TV show (which I’ve since watched and am totally into) but at a certain point the book is more surface than substance.