Title: The Astronaut Wives Club
Author: Lily Koppel
Release Date: June 11, 2013
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Non-Fiction, History, Space/NASA
Rating: 4 out of 5
We’ve heard so much about NASA’s Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts. Names like Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman are well-known as contributing to the history of American spaceflight. But what about the wives these men left behind? Author Lily Koppel takes a closer look at the private lives of these women, the masks they had to wear in public, and the inner struggles they faced as a consequence of their husbands’ chosen professions.
Don’t let the fluffy sounding name of this book fool you. The Astronaut Wives Club is an in-depth look at the challenges and difficulties of being an astronaut’s wife during the glory days of the American space program. NASA saw a strong marriage as an absolute must when it came to sending men into space; as a result, these women had just as much of a role to play as their husbands did. They had to smile and wave, presenting a perfectly coiffed image to the public, while facing a lack of support at home.
Koppel presents the relationships among the wives in a very interesting way in The Astronaut Wives Club. On one hand, they were all very close; they faced a situation that no one outside the group could understand. They supported one another, especially in times of tragedy, and relied on one another heavily. But on the flip side, these wives never were truly able to trust each other. They worried about sharing confidences, that it would make them look weak and complaints might get back to NASA and thus hurt their husbands’ flight prospects. The aloneness these women felt was palpable, and Koppel captures it well.
The Astronaut Wives Club is written in a narrative style, so it’s very easy to read. There are many women covered in the pages of this book, but Koppel does a good job capturing their singular voices, so readers will be able to distinguish them. One very interesting aspect of this book is it presents a truer portrayal of the astronauts’ personalities than is often depicted; readers get a sense of what these men were truly like, the good but also the bad. It becomes increasingly apparent how the astronaut wives of the era were expected to do a thankless job with little reward; the astronomical (no pun intended) divorce rates among the group is a testament to that fact.
If you’re looking for a light nonfiction read that will keep you engaged from beginning to end, and you’re at all interested in women’s issues or the space program, The Astronaut Wives Club is a book you should pick up. Koppel presents a vivid, if not fully comprehensive, account of this era with a unique focus, and it’s certainly thought provoking. While it does jump a bit in time, readers are treated to an interesting account of an oft-neglected group.