Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Astronaut Wives Club - Lily Koppel

The Astronaut Wives Club
I don't know what it was about moving, but something about organizing and purging our stuff must have inspired me. I have been slowly working my way through my On Reserve list this fall. I've made to books I've owned for years but never read, finally read the 2014 Pulitzer winner, read and books that have been on my list since I started it. My 100 Best Novels pursuit may be going slowly, but I'm burning through other stuff, and that makes me feel good. 

Someday, when this whole grad school, working remotely, juggling too much thing ends, that's what I plan to do all the time. Just devour books for like a month. I know I can't do it forever, but a few weeks at least. Books and a massage. Anyone looking to send me a graduation gift around the start of May, that's my list. 

For now, though, let's talk about this book. The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel (no relation to Ted - I checked). It's a nonfiction look at a group of women who were at the center of American attention not that long ago. These women were the wives of the first American men in space. 

Anyone who received their education in the United States has gotten bits and pieces of the NASA story. Space race, moon landing, the whole deal. What I never realized or even though about, however, was the personal story behind it all. These men, most specially chosen from the armed forces, and their families were a media sensation during the height of the space race. Life magazine even cut a special deal with NASA to do cover stories and get special access to the astro-families. 

I had no clue. For as borderline obsessed as I am with current celebrity culture and as for sure obsessed as I am with history, I could not believe their was this whole group of American celebrities that I knew next to nothing about. I didn't even know that had this level of fame at the time! I'm trying to think of how to even describe it to you. It's like if the Kardashians were actually famous for doing something important and also consciously worked at promoting American ideals and setting a standard for families across the nation. Hard to imagine, I know. 

These families were far from perfect. Koppel provides an intimate look at some of the struggles they faced, all while trying to present a put-together image to the American public. Infidelity, fear, extreme work schedules, alcoholism, and pressures from the press all weighed on these families in one way or another. Some, like John and Annie Glenn, proved themselves to be model examples, exactly the image NASA wanted from their astronauts. Others tried to sweep their marital problems under the proverbial rug in order to stay in NASA's good graces. At the time, it was believed that a man with a happy marriage and home life would be a better astronaut. These wives were expected to bend over backward to provide their men with anything they needed, and often turn a blind eye to the men's antics in the process.

Koppel's book is chock-full of anecdotes and fun facts. It also reveals some sad stories. Not all of the astronauts chosen made it into space. Not all even lived to get the chance. I really enjoyed the book and walked away from it with a new, profound respect for these women. They faced incredible circumstance and expectations and, with few exceptions, met it all with grace and poise. No wonder their were cultural icons. 

ABC is apparently creating a TV show based on the book and on the lives of these women. It's set to premiere in 2015, so I will be watching for that. You should, too. In the mean time, pick up a copy of this book and get to know these incredible American women who were just as heroic as their historic husbands. 

Pages: 288
Date Completed: November 21, 2014

1 comment:

  1. I need to read this book! My personal favorite astronaut couple are Jim and Marilyn Lovell. They're still together, and they clearly care about each other, which, as you said, is not always the case. Also, I have some books on the Apollo program and people that you're welcome to borrow if you like.