In the dawn of the Space Race, the American astronaut was the epitome of bright-eyed nationalism. (We were beating the Russians, dammit!) But oft forgotten are the wives of men such as John Glenn and Buzz Aldrin--women expected to play the role of the perfect 1960s housewife while their husbands risked their lives.
These women are the subjects of journalist Lily Koppel’s fascinating new book, The Astronaut Wives Club.
Beginning with the spouses of the Mercury Seven (the first men to go into space), Koppel explores the group’s overnight celebrity. The gals posed for Life magazine, drank tea with Jackie Kennedy and fended off the pretty groupies vying for their astronauts’ attention.
There was picture-perfect Annie Glenn, who lived in fear of revealing her stutter; sexy platinum-blonde Rene Carpenter, whom JFK declared his favorite; provincial Betty Grissom, who struggled to fit the June Cleaver mold. But perhaps most interesting are the close-knit friendships these women formed, despite their husbands’ sometimes fierce competition.
Koppel moves through the ’60s and ’70s with a deft hand. As more missions were scheduled, more wives joined the club, and soon death and tragedy touched the clan. But through it all, the women remained remarkably, well, down-to-earth.