A great Space Age pic of Gus Grissom, John Glenn, and Alan Shepard (those zippered suits!) This silvery trio was tapped for “First Man in Space” — Who would win the prize? (Also, it’s Gus’s bday today) Looking forward to the #AstroWives taking Texas by storm in June!
Whenever I read a new space book, I always judge it in two ways. First, does it pass the typical standards of a good nonfiction book: Is it well-written? How is the editing? Is it historically accurate? The second aspect I look at is the material. Does the book bring anything new to light? Does it keep the same tired secondhand sources to a minimum, and does it try to break new ground?
After I read Lily Koppel’s The Astronaut Wives Club, I can easily say that the book passes both criteria with flying colors.
The book tells the story of the astronaut wives from the space race era; previously, their story has been told fleetingly, in brief anecdotes and chapters of other space books. This is the first time that they have been given the spotlight.
The book is an emotional roller coaster. One of the best aspects of this book is that you begin to root for the women. I became caught up in their stories; I laughed at the many funny stories, felt genuine anger when a wife received threatening notes from a stalker, and cried at their losses. (Oh, the losses. As a NASA nerd, I knew beforehand about all of the deaths in the astronaut corps that would take place; yet I teared up each time.)
When I told a friend that there was a new book about the astronaut wives, her first response was, “Wow, that sounds depressing.” She had seen the wives episode of From The Earth to the Moon and automatically assumed that the book would be a sob sister fest. Quite the opposite. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of gut-wrenching topics in here: suicide attempts, spousal betrayal, alcoholism, and so forth. But what makes the book so remarkable is the wide range of emotions. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments (an overwhelmed LIFE reporter’s visit to the Bormans, for instance), as well as terrific anecdotes about the trials and tribulations of their strange new lives. By the end of the book, you will bond with these women, because you will feel that you have “experienced” so much with them. The wives are not the perfect women portrayed by LIFE, and they are not some caricature of an embittered betrayed woman. Rather, they deal with very human problems in a very difficult environment; normal women who were forced to become superwomen.
One of the best things about this book: I learned so much. It’s clear that the author was able to talk to the wives and relatives and took advantage of that opportunity. Roughly every other page had a fact I didn’t know, or a story I had never heard. This quality alone would automatically make this book one of my favorites.
The Astronaut Wives Club is outstanding in many ways: It covers new ground, tells stories that need to be told, and wraps all of this in a terrific read. It is a long-overdue chapter to the story of the space race, and to the story of women in America.
Kicking off Father’s Day…The Lovell kids made this sign for their father: I spotted this when Marilyn and I paged through her scrapbooks together Btw, the Astro Wives’ interview, and Marilyn and Jim Lovell, on CBS SUNDAY MORNING airs on Father’s Day, June 16! http://cbsn.ws/KeBJj9 (Find out when it airs at TV stations across the nation: http://bit.ly/Yx0OQ)
WOW! A wonderful shot. Platinum blonde Rene Carpenter—the wife of one of the Mercury astronauts—surprised the other wives for this first 1959 Life cover shoot by not wearing the prescribed pastel shirtwaist dress. Also Trudy Cooper in eggshell blue (the only licensed pilot among the Astro Wives) and Louise Shepard, pretty in pink.
The Mercury wives, minus Betty, greet Gus Grissom and the rest of the astronauts with a banner reading “We’re Proud Of You All” upon the astronauts’ arrival at Patrick Air Force Base after the Liberty Bell 7 flight, July 1961.
When I first saw this photo, I thought the wives were holding a banner saying “We’re Proud Of You Al” - aka Alan Shepard, who had flown into space two months before - and that someone had gotten the idea to recycle the banner and greet Gus with it, in front of the press and all the other dignitaries, after his flight. That would have been a great practical joke, but, yikes. Pretty harsh.
"Nowadays, there are so few people who stay married" … Happy 70th Wedding Anniversary John and Annie Glenn, America’s Sweethearts who celebrated this weekend. This pic is from the first LIFE mag cover story of the wives. Annie confessed to America: what if they "aren’t able to bring him back?"