“What kind of a woman would actually let her husband be blasted into space on a rocket?”
This was the question all the reporters asked when the Mercury 7 astronauts were announced on April 9, 1959 at a press conference at the Dolley Madison House in Washington DC. The Astronauts Wives Club: A True Story by Lily Koppel tells the story of those seven women referred to as the astrowives: Rene Carpenter, Annie Glenn, Trudy Cooper, Betty Grissom, Jo Schirra, Louise Shepard, and Marge Slayton.
The astrowives became instant celebrities along with their husbands. Life Magazine sent a reporter to cover the wives and children while their husbands were in training and on missions. They were given $500,000 for participating in the story to split between the seven families, which was considerably more that the $7,000 a year the astronauts were making from the military. They went on tours around the world and had tea with Jackie Kennedy.
The astrowives were able to create the illusion of the perfect families for the reporters and the American people, even though the stress of the space program created turmoil in their marriages. Trudy Cooper had left Gordon, only to return to him because it was an unwritten rule that the astronauts had to be happily married to be sent on space flights. Marge Slayton hid the fact that she had been divorced, thinking that would hurt Deke’s chances of being picked for the Mercury program. The wives, used to their husbands being away from home for long periods of time, supported each other. When an astronaut was killed on a mission, NASA called the other astrowives in the neighborhood to go over to the new widows’ house before officials arrived to tell her the news.
I think the author did a great job of pulling the reader into the astronauts world. I could feel the anxiety the wives felt when their husbands went into space. I enjoyed the family pictures in the book and would often flip to the picture section when new astrowives were introduced to put a face to the name. I found the descriptions of the fashions throughout the years brought the era to life and enjoyed reading about the close friendships these women formed.
Mercury 7 astronauts Scott Carpenter, John Glenn, L. Gordon Cooper, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Walter Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Donald K. “Deke” Slayton became instant American heroes. They were treated like rock stars upon return from space and have been immortalized in books and film. We all know the hard work and dedication the astronauts gave to NASA, but the Astronaut Wives Club is the first book that focuses on the role the wives played in their success. These seven women stayed true to the astrowives slogan of “Proud, Thrilled, and Happy.”