Lily Koppel examines space race spouses in 'Astronaut Wives Club'

Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionSeptember 28, 2013 

"The Astronaut Wives Club" by Lily Koppel.

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    Nonfiction

    The Astronaut Wives Club

    Lily Koppel

    Grand Central Publishing, 288 pages

When inspiration hit, it didn’t happen in a galaxy far, far away. Rather, in a trendy Manhattan loft.

“We had just bought this large coffee table book that was a re-release of Norman Mailer’s opus on Apollo 11, matched up with these amazing photos from Life (magazine),” said Lily Koppel, 32, recalling a conversation she had with her husband three years ago.

“I turned the page to discover this amazing group portrait of these women all wearing poufy minidresses and with sky-high beehive hairdos. I turned to Tom and said, ‘Has anyone ever written about the Astrowives?’”

No one had. At least not the way Koppel does in “The Astronaut Wives Club.”

“I learned they were still in this group that meets for reunions, that they had been in an ‘Astronaut Wives Club' back in the day,” said Koppel, who focused on the wives of the first three groups of NASA astronauts, dubbed the “Original Seven” (John Glenn’s group), “The New Nine” (Neil Armstrong) and finally, “The Fourteen” (Buzz Aldrin).

“They’d all lived and raised their kids in the Houston space ’burbs known as ‘Togethersville.’ It was a story that almost seemed too good to be true.”

Turns out it was – in ways occasionally hilarious or heartbreaking. The result is an entertaining, sneakily insightful look at the women Americans thought they knew as they waved their hero husbands off into space.

Most were military wives, accustomed to frequent moves and long stretches alone while their husbands were off flying combat missions. What they had little experience with was the intense focus on them by the press and public, who, encouraged by NASA, expected them to be the perfect astronaut helpmates. Even if it meant putting up with the female groupies (nicknamed “Cape Cookies”) who chased their husbands.

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