Originally Published in Publishers Weekly on April 8, 2013
In this entertaining and quirky throwback, journalist Koppel (The Red Leather Diary) revisits the ladies who cheered and bolstered their men to victory in the U.S. space program from the late ’50s through early 1970s, revealing public triumph and rarely private agony. Koppel looks at the history of the race to space, starting with the Mercury Seven of April 1959, and focusing on the wives: e.g., Louise Shepard (wife of Alan), Betty Grissom (Gus) and Annie Glenn (John), young women who wore teased hair, bright lipstick, and cat-eye sunglasses, and towed numerous small children. The wives had to be gracious to the Life magazine reporters who invaded their homes, concealing unpleasant domestic details, such as marital discord, philandering husbands, and unseemly competition with other wives. The wives were invited to live at or near the Langley, Va., Air Force base, where the astronauts trained before relocating to Houston (aka Space City, USA) in 1962; the women socialized with each other, toured the White House with Jackie Kennedy, and watched their husbands’ launches on TV together over champagne and cigarettes. Some missions ended in tragedy, such as when a failed test flight in 1967 resulted in the deaths of Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. The Gemini and the Apollo missions followed, compelling the wives of legendary astronauts Collins, Aldrin, and Armstrong, among others, to endure seeing their husbands go on dangerous moon missions. This is truly a great snapshot of the times.