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As America's Mercury Seven astronauts are launched on death-defying missions, television cameras focus on the brave smiles of their young wives. Overnight, these military spouses are transformed into American royalty, and will rally together as tragedies begin to touch their lives.
- ISBN-13: 9781455503254
- ISBN-10: 1455503258
- Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
- Publish Date: June 2013
- Page Count: 288
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-04-08
- Reviewer: Staff
In this entertaining and quirky throwback, journalist Koppel (The Red Leather Diary) revisits the ladies who cheered and bolstered their men to victory in the U.S. space program from the late ’50s through early 1970s, revealing public triumph and rarely private agony. Koppel looks at the history of the race to space, starting with the Mercury Seven of April 1959, and focusing on the wives: e.g., Louise Shepard (wife of Alan), Betty Grissom (Gus) and Annie Glenn (John), young women who wore teased hair, bright lipstick, and cat-eye sunglasses, and towed numerous small children. The wives had to be gracious to the Life magazine reporters who invaded their homes, concealing unpleasant domestic details, such as marital discord, philandering husbands, and unseemly competition with other wives. The wives were invited to live at or near the Langley, Va., Air Force base, where the astronauts trained before relocating to Houston (aka Space City, USA) in 1962; the women socialized with each other, toured the White House with Jackie Kennedy, and watched their husbands’ launches on TV together over champagne and cigarettes. Some missions ended in tragedy, such as when a failed test flight in 1967 resulted in the deaths of Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. The Gemini and the Apollo missions followed, compelling the wives of legendary astronauts Collins, Aldrin, and Armstrong, among others, to endure seeing their husbands go on dangerous moon missions. This is truly a great snapshot of the times. Agent: Larry Weissman. (June)
The women of Togethersville
There’s just something about the early ’60s: the drinks, the conservatism, the consumerism, the Cold War. And the astronauts. “Mad Men” fans and history buffs alike won’t want to miss a new book about a relatively unexplored aspect of this era: the lives of the astronauts’ wives. NASA encouraged the women to be “thrilled, happy, and proud” of their space-bound men, but really they experienced so much more.
We meet the Mercury Seven women in the first chapter of The Astronaut Wives Club, and author Lily Koppel does a nice job of staying close to their stories. By the time you see the women’s faces in the pictures, you’ll feel like you’re a member of the gang. Amazing anecdotes include Annie Glenn’s refusal to visit with Lyndon B. Johnson following the delay of John Glenn’s launch. Unbelievably, NASA tried to get John Glenn (while still loaded in the rocket) to persuade Annie to participate in the impromptu press conference. Glenn let them patch him through in a conference call and then said, “Annie, if you don’t want to visit with him, I’ll back you a hundred percent.” Other wives—and marriages—fared worse under the awesome weight of instant fame, enormous wealth and death-defying missions.
For readers already familiar with the space program, these stories will deepen the portraits of the astronauts, and not always in flattering ways. (Don’t miss the fight between Buzz and Joan Aldrin on their European tour.) The wives faced incredible pressure and often banded together in the midst of it: serving champagne following liftoff, conducting a press conference on the lawn following landing; living in the densely astronaut-populated corner of Texas nicknamed “Togethersville”; suspecting (usually rightly) that their husbands were cheating on them with “a cookie on the cape”; raising their children largely on their own. And while the wives formed lasting bonds, competition and envy also shaped their interactions from the earliest days. As one wife recalled, “We were complete traditionalists: hats, gloves, entertaining machines, eyes glued on husbands’ careers.”
Reading The Astronaut Wives Club, you might find yourself shaking your head and thinking, “Could this be real?” It almost feels like a dream, and occasionally like a nightmare. But for these women it was life, complicated and messy, adventurous and emotional. It’s hard to believe no one has already written their story, and this reader is glad Koppel finally did.