screenshot212 Most of us are familiar with the names Alan Shepard, John Glenn, and Neil Armstrong. Thanks to Tom Hanks, “Houston, we have a problem” was used to voice concern over a situation for some time after Apollo 13 was released. But until I read Lily Koppel’s The Astronaut Wives Club, I didn’t know really anything about the women married to the astronauts.

The early days of the Space program were before my time.  Before I read this, I had no idea that NASA wasn’t selling just space exploration, but an image of the perfect astronaut and his family. I had not thought about what it would be like for those left behind on earth as these men blasted into Space. Challenger and Columbia remind us that even with all the successful missions, tragedy can still occur. I can only imagine how terrifying this adventure must have been for these women who first experienced it, waiting, hoping that above all, their loved one came home safely.

Much like First Ladies, the Astronaut Wives were a pretty exclusive club- there simply weren’t that many other people who truly understood what they were going through.

Koppel doesn’t seem to whitewash the story.  A number of these marriages were far from perfect.  The partnership with Life magazine provided a better living to the astronaut families than did the US government.  If a man was killed, there wasn’t always a good safety net, save for the women who dropped everything to go wait with a wife when bad news was coming.

Most of these women were very grateful for their experiences. Others were severely traumatized.  All in all though, they formed a bond that lasts even today. The kind of bond formed by circumstance, but is intractable nonetheless.

I enjoyed reading The Astronaut Wives Club, this glimpse into wives thrust into sudden celebrity as the Space program exploded. They were suddenly tasked with selling an image and ideal few people can ever meet, yet they handled it with gumption, intelligence, and grace.

Don’t just watch the short series on ABC. Read this book.