The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story
By Lily Koppel
(Grand Central Publishing, Hardcover, 9781455503254, June 2013, 288pp.)
The Short of It:
A behind the scenes, not so pleasant look at the women behind the Mercury Seven astronauts. Makes for a good beach read as it was pretty hard to put down.
The Rest of It:
Oh! These women! I had no idea what they went through. They were so perfect on the outside, almost Stepford-like, and yet they dealt with some seriously tough issues. On top of the everyday stress of being an astronaut’s wife, they also had to adhere to a certain standard, one that required them to dress and talk a certain way, not to mention LIVE a certain way. Their housing was pretty much determined for them, and yes, they received some perks for being part of the space program, but the really big decisions were not made by the families themselves.
Together, these women forge a bond with each other. They share a lot of the same concerns so naturally, they spend a lot of time together and in essence, become one big family. But the infidelity of many of the astronauts was a surprise to me. Many of these men kept women on the side and their wives were well aware of it, but not really able to do much about it since broken homes were considered a weakness for any astronaut being considered for flight.
This bothered me. I am not a fan of women that allow men to treat them poorly and keeping a “Suzie” on the side would have sent me over the edge had it been happening to me, but at the same time, it’s almost as if these women knew what they were signing up for when they married these men. They didn’t like the fact that their husbands were cheating on them, but they considered it par for the course and put up with it.
The promise of new clothes, nice homes and strategic magazine covers seemed to appease them, until their husbands are in space and their return becomes uncertain. Then, the resentment sets in as well as the worry. What will happen to them if their husbands die on a mission? Will they be able to stay in the same home? Will they be forced to move out of the area? Insurance policies are always up-to-date when you are married to an astronaut but these women had children to consider as well and as it turns out, some of these men did die, mostly from experiments on the ground.
Back row: Shepard, Grissom, Cooper; front row: Schirra, Slayton, Glenn, Carpenter in 1960. Photo credit: Wikipedia
The tragic nature of their stories is somewhat tamped down by their royalty status. Hanging out with Jackie Kennedy one minute and trading potluck recipes the next. Plus, the media was fascinated with them and could not get enough of them on camera. Entire homes were built without front windows just to give these women a false sense of privacy. But although they tried their hardest to maintain celebrity status, some days they just weren’t feeling it and that is why the Astronaut Wives Club was formed. It gave them all a chance to let loose and be themselves.
I really enjoyed this book but I felt like a total voyeur peeking into their lives like this. Plus, the politics of flight, who steps foot on the moon first, what comes out of their mouths as the whole world is watching…plays a huge role too. The images of these men and women were played up to make them look really good to the public but as with any marriage, they had their troubles too. And as new missions come-up, so do new astronauts and their new wives. The original seven quickly realize just how short-lived their fame is. It’s a little sad but I’m glad that they women had each other for support.
This is one of those books that you can’t put down. Especially if you are at all fascinated with how celebrities live. I also have a thing for that time period (late 50′s, early 60′s) so I found the combination irresistible. Oh, and did I mention that the TV series based on the book is expected to hit your living room this summer?
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