Reviewed by Kathy Manney
People magazine wrote of The Astronaut Wives Club A True Story, “The men catapulted into space in the twentieth century were interesting, sort of. The women they left back on earth were fascinating.”
In the book’s acknowledgements author Lily Koppel writes, “I still find it amazing that there is more computing power in my iPhone than in the technology that took the astronauts to the moon.”
Many of the future astronaut wives had been military wives during wartime, they were familiar with long deployments. Becoming an astronaut wife didn’t change their husband’s long absences from home, but it brought them star power by association. The wives who lived behind the Life magazine photos and feature articles found their lives filled with stress, the glamour and the perks didn’t make their lives easier.
Certainly the demand to pose as the “perfect family” placed on them by NASA took its toll on their marriages. Most of the couples divorced once the astronaut had gone into space. For their children, having a part-time dad who was a public hero was pressure filled. Also, the children, seldom seeing their dads, barely knew them.
Before they were chosen to become astronauts the selectees were regular military officers whose wives revolved their lives around their husbands and children. They moved from military base to military base as their husband’s careers required it. As astronauts, the men were military who kept their rank, but were loaned “to the new civilian space agency” and the men no longer wore military uniforms.
Traveling often, the astronauts lived in many time zones and when they were at home, many shut off their emotions, believing a good pilot remains unemotional. A good pilot and a good astronaut requires being alert and prepared for anything because they must be capable of making instantaneous decisions.
“… the wives experienced the same waking nightmare, imagining the dark figure of the base chaplain ringing the doorbell, telling her she was now a widow.” The astronaut wives lived everyday knowing if one of their husbands lost his life in the line of duty, she would have to resign herself to his death quietly and bravely. This was part of her job. NASA commanded it and the world too was watching – judging.
The Astronaut Wives Club is not only the story of extraordinary women who were placed in the spotlight when their husbands became America’s first men in space, the storyline is a time capsule of family life in the Leave it to Beaver 1960’s to the Women’s lib 1970’s, two decades when American families were dramatically changing.
When Lady Bird and Lyndon Johnson came to the home of astronaut John Glenn and his wife Annie for dinner, Annie served her unassuming, but popular Ham Loaf. Annie was well regarded by the other wives who considered her the warm nurturing Betty Crocker type. Before leaving the Glenn home, Lady Bird thanked Annie and asked for her Ham Loaf recipe, as Annie knew she would.
First astronaut wife Marge Slayton who died in 1989, once said about the Astronaut Wives Club that she started, “We were all finding our way through an experience that was a first – that of being astronaut wives and with the husbands away, we felt the need to support each other. So we began monthly coffees.”
The women who make up the Astronaut Wives Club have the “right stuff.” This book about them outlines their story well. A story interesting enough to have become a popular 2015 TV series simply titled The Astronaut Wives Club. Book or TV series this is a historical time capsule everyone can learn from, especially those interested in getting a peek into this era.
Kathy Manney is the nationally recognized author of autobiographical, lifestyle and travel articles and the travel columnist for “The Vegas Voice,” a monthly regional senior lifestyle newspaper. She is the wife of a career military man who is now retired. They raised their two children throughout the United States and in several overseas countries.
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