If you grew up with the space program, watching astronauts go to space, you may know the names of so many of the astronauts from the early programs, particularly the Mercury Seven; Scott Carpenter, "Gordo" Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, Deke Slayton. Then, there's Neil Armstrong, Frank Borman, Pete Conrad, and Jim Lovell, some of the astronauts from Gemini and Apollo. Yes, we know the names of many of the astronauts. Now, Lily Koppel introduces us to the wives of all the astronauts of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs in the fascinating book, The Astronaut Wives Club. Many of the wives cooperated with the author so she could finally tell their story.
From the moment the Mercury Seven astronauts were announced, their families became the center of attention. Women, most of whom had been military wives, then wives of test pilots, were now in the spotlight of the media. Life magazine had the contract to cover their family lives. While NASA and Life portrayed the perfect family life, and perfect middle-class wives, they were women who kept families together while their husbands were absent, living dangerous lives, sometimes cheating on them. But, the spotlight shone brightly, and the wives were hosted at the White House by JFK and Jackie Kennedy. Koppel takes us inside the astronauts' homes, where it wasn't always so glamorous, and where the wives fearfully waited for their husbands to return.
Koppel says, "Ultimately, the wives' story is about female friendships and American identity....If not for the wives, the strong women in the background who provided essential support to their husbands, man might never have walked on the Moon."
The Astronaut Wives Club is a fascinating account of women who supported their husbands in a dangerous profession, and found support in each other. Lily Koppel finally focuses on the women who, until now, were best known from their profiles in Life, the women behind America's space heroes. It's time the women had their own story, thanks to Koppel.
The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel. Grand Central Publishing. 2013. ISBN 9781455503254 (hardcover), 272p.
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