Over the course of time barrels of ink, forests of paper, and miles of film have been used to tell the tales of NASA’s original seven Mercury astronauts. These brave men were the subject of countless books, magazine profiles, photographs and films. Yet aside from what amounts to a passing glance in Life Magazine, the women behind these men have never been the front and center focus.
Until now. The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story is a terrific concept from bestselling author Lilly Koppel; as she tells the story of the women who were in most cases thrust into the national spotlight because of their proximity to this new breed of hero, cast more from the pages of comic books than from America’s armed services.
It’s difficult to imagine in this day and age with comparably massive computing capabilities at our fingertips in our homes the lofty advances that were being undertaken to hurtle these men into outer space and for their families to be idealized for the outfits and makeup they wore and favorite recipes they served up. It’s equally striking the impact those advance had on our everyday life and the relative ease that most Americans cast these heroes aside as the space program continued to evolve.
For NASA purists seeking insights into the life of these women whose lives paralleled their heroic husbands from a space program perspective The Astronaut Wives Club will likely prove disappointing from the frothy, tabloid-like approach to portions of the story. For me the book is an interesting time capsule portrait more of American life, that it is the tale of space program. It is a snapshot of life in a different era; pre-dating so-called women’s liberation, and focusing on patriotism, family and domesticity before the mantra became “you can have it all.”
The distinct differences in the wives are highlighted early in the book, but as the story evolves and the relationship bond between these unique women grows and the danger and the tragedy that is part and parcel of their husbands career choice combined with their front page existence comes home to roost; their membership in this unique club rallies them together. It is a truly striking story of courage and a different era in our history.