How do you return to normal life after catapulting into outer space, bunny hopping across the moon’s surface and tracing the heavens with your fingertips? How can life on Earth–with its gravitational pull and carpool– ever compare? These are questions I’d never considered until reading Lily Koppel’s new book, The Astronaut Wives Club.
The Astronaut Wives Club chronicles the extraordinary lives thrust upon the women whose husbands were the first U.S. astronauts–from the original Mercury Seven through the last Apollo mission. As author Lily Koppel said in an NPR interview, the Astronaut Wives were America’s first reality stars. With no instruction manual from NASA, the wives were blasted into the cultural stratosphere.
Once accustomed to stretching their husbands’ $7,000 annual military pay, the wives were suddenly inundated with homes, cars, clothes. A contract with Life magazine embedded a reporter in their homes at all times. They attended White House dinners complete with guided tours from Jackie Kennedy. The women behind the men who landed on the moon spent months touring the world as goodwill ambassadors and rubbing elbows with royals and other dignitaries.
But as they orbited closer to wealth and fame, the wives floated farther apart from their husbands. While the Astronaut Wives lived in the suburbs near the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, their husbands trained and worked at Cape Canaveral in Florida. The men who graduated from the adrenaline rush of breaking the sound barrier to playing golf on the moon, had a hard time sitting still at home. It’s no wonder that most of the astronaut marriages dissipated like so much fuel vapor. Through it all, the Astronaut Wives relied on each other: to coordinate outfits and social events, to share the unprecedented triumphs, to understand the chaos and obligations of being an astronaut’s wife, and to comfort each other during the times of profound loss.
Lily Koppel, who also wrote the New York Times bestselling book The Red Leather Diary, is coming to the AJC Decatur Book Festival this Labor Day weekend. One of the wives lives in Decatur, Georgia (a suburb of Atlanta) and will appear with the author. Visit Lily Koppel’s website www.astronautwivesclub.com, follow her on Twitter and like her on Facebook.
You can listen to Lily Koppel’s interview on NPR’s Morning Edition, where she calls the Astronaut Wives Club the first reality stars. With Spacebound Hubbies, Astrowives Became “First Reality Stars”