Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Astronaut Wives Club

When I saw this book on sale at Walmart the other day, I decided I had to have it. As a child growing up in the 1960s, the race to the moon was big news. The astronauts were American heroes and space pioneers.  Now I live on the outskirts of Huntsville, Alabama, home of the Space and Rocket Museum and the famous Space Camp! How could I not be interested in the lives of the women who made it possible for these men to reach for the stars?

The original seven wives were a tight group. Plucked from Air Force, Navy and Marine bases, they joined their husbands in Houston where the men began their training as astronauts.  Because of their fame, Life magazine gave the families $500,000 to share between them for the rights to their "stories" over the years.  This was a perk to families who had struggled by on an officer's salary in the military. The wives were able to build lovely homes off base. The men spent their money on boats and sports cars.

With the fame came responsibility. NASA expected the women to be uber June Cleavers. As you can see from the photo above, they tried their best to do as NASA ordered! They were told to wear pastel shirt dresses for the photo but Rene Carpenter(always a renegade) decided she would wear what she pleased and that was a floral print dress!! Husbands were gone a lot so the wives banded together to offer support to one another.  In addition to be worried about their husbands safety, they had to worry about all the "groupies" that surrounded the men. Many of the men were unfaithful to their wives but NASA was able to keep that from the public.

One of the saddest stories in the book, is about Grissom, White and Chaffee. They were the three astronauts who died in a fire as their space capsule was going through tests on the launch pad.  These men are all remembered in Huntsville as three schools are named after them, Grissom Highschool, White Middle School and Chaffee Elementary School.  Betty Grissom was especially incensed at the death of her husband because he had shared with her that he thought the space capsule was a lemon. This horrific accident again brought home to all the wives how close widowhood was to each of them.

I enjoyed the book but I have to admit that it started to drag a bit toward the end. There were so many astronaut wives that I had a hard time keeping them all straight. The book goes right up to the last manned space flight in the 70s. This book has caused me to want to read The Right Stuff again.  One thing the book pointed out was that the space program opened the door to many of the technologies we enjoy today such as the internet.  If you enjoy history and you want to know the 'back story" give this book a try!

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