Astronaut wives club : a true story

by Lily Koppel

Paper Book, 2014




New York : Grand Central Publishing, 2014.


"As America's Mercury Seven astronauts were launched on death-defying missions, television cameras focused on the brave smiles of their young wives. Overnight, these women were transformed from military spouses into American royalty. They had tea with Jackie Kennedy, appeared on the cover of Life magazine, and quickly grew into fashion icons. Annie Glenn, with her picture-perfect marriage, was the envy of the other wives; platinum-blonde Rene Carpenter was proclaimed JFK's favorite; and licensed pilot Trudy Cooper arrived on base with a secret. Together with the other wives they formed the Astronaut Wives Club, meeting regularly to provide support and friendship. Many became next-door neighbors and helped to raise each other's children by day, while going to glam parties at night. As their celebrity rose-and as divorce and tragic death began to touch their lives-they continued to rally together, and the wives have now been friends for more than fifty years. THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB tells the real story of the women who stood beside some of the biggest heroes in American history"--… (more)

Media reviews

Lily Koppel's history tells the story of the women behind the astronauts, from Project Mercury--which launched the first American into space in 1961--to the Apollo program, which landed a man on the Moon eight years later. Focusing on this tight-knit sisterhood offers a new window into America's ambitious age of exploration. It's a fairly comprehensive overview--to both its credit and detriment. While Koppel's thoroughness is impressive, the book often barely skims the surface of these women's lives, and there are so many characters that it's hard to keep them straight. . . . Occasionally a sense of the women's steely strength cuts through, but there's an awful lot of fluff in the way.

User reviews

LibraryThing member delphica
I had high hopes for this, it slightly delivered.

The real life stories of these women are fascinating. As the wives of the astronauts in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space programs, they faced a uniquely weird situation. Stressful, scary, financially challenging, and often solitary, they had to anchor their families while dealing with the press attempting to poke into every aspect of their lives.

The challenging thing about writing a book about these women is that what you have mostly is a collection of anecdotes. One on one, they are extremely interesting, especially if you're a fan of the space program, or even of the general era. It's Mad Men in space, what's not to like? But the anecdotes don't really come together to form a larger story - because they're real life things that happened to real life people, and life doesn't always have a clear narrative arc. And I got the feeling the author was trying to impose one here. It felt a little forced to me. The author made some strange choices about what to include, even word choice sometimes felt off. The respect and regard that she has for these women clearly came through, which was nice, but I suspect the more personal relationships she developed with them led her to assume that some connections or implications were obvious to readers.

The overall theme is that these women were presented in the media as perfect wives, raising perfect kids and whole-heartedly supporting their husbands in particular and the space program and democracy in general. In reality, their lives were frequently disrupted, NASA didn't provide a lot of support, and they often struggled with issues both personal to their marriages as well as larger social changes in the U.S. All of this is exactly what anyone would assume before even reading the book, right? None of that is surprising.

It's so intrinsically interesting that I'm glad I read it, but overall I had a hard time with the style. "Trying too hard" is how I would sum it up.
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LibraryThing member Readers_Respite
Fascinating topic: a close look at the wives of the Apollo, Gemini, and Mercury astronauts and the incredible pressure they were under, both from NASA and public expectations. The execution in this book was very disjointed, chiefly due to the sheer number of women the author was trying to track. This distracted from the overall theme of the book. It is a worthwhile read (a very sad read), but not stellar by any means.… (more)
LibraryThing member JanaRose1
Skyrocketed to instant fame, the wife of an astronaut could expect aggressive journalists, anxiety and fear over her husband’s missions and constant competition among the families. The book begins with the original seven mercury wives. It discuses their reactions to the missions and their struggles to be the "perfect" wife. As the book brought in other astronaut wives, it made the mercury wives seem territorial and greedy. By the end of the book there were too many wives to keep up with. It was shocking to read about the divorce rate of astronaut couples and devastating to read about the loss of lives and the wives reaction to it. Overall, an interesting book. It isn't one I would re-read, but it gave me some insight into the lives of the astronaut family.… (more)
LibraryThing member ddelmoni
Interesting overview but very poorly written (as another reviewer wrote, "reads like a 10th grade book report"). The author should have stuck to the original Mercury 7 wives, taking their lives into the present and truly do them justice. The others could have been covered in subsequent books. Instead the author clearly bit off more then she could chew (and put in under 300 pages) so did no one justice.

I also have serious doubts about it's accuracy after reading about "SENATOR" Richard Nixon and the famous Kitchen Debate with Nikita Khrushchev. Seems to me Hachette laid off too many Senior editors and published a mediocre book that would make a quick buck (New York Times Bestseller, which it is)!
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LibraryThing member BoundTogetherForGood
I love the romance of the space race!

I've read The Lost Moon by Jim Lovell twice.

The story of the the wives of the astronauts had, astonishingly, never been told prior to this. One of the things I learned through this book is that only the marriages of the Apollo 8 astronauts managed to survive. The stress that these women were under was hardly less than the stress their husbands were under.… (more)
LibraryThing member hammockqueen
could have used more pictures to refresh my memory.
LibraryThing member Suew456
A quick, entertaining read. Mostly a parade of pop references, trying to place the astronaut wives in their social context. I enjoyed it, but it seemed superficial.
LibraryThing member iansales
Read for research for Apollo Quartet 4 All That Outer Space Allows. This is the only book published to date on the wives of the early astronauts, although Life Magazine did run a series of articles on each of the Mercury 7 wives back in the 1960s. There is also, as far as I’m aware, only one autobiography by the wife on an astronaut – The Moon is Not Enough (1978) by Mary Irwin, wife of Apollo 15′s James B Irwin (yes, I have a copy). Having said that, several of the wives wrote or co-wrote their husbands’ biographies, such as Rocketman by Nancy Conrad (2005), Moonwalker by Charlie and Dotty Duke (1990) and Starfall by Betty Grissom (1974). The wives of the Apollo 11 astronauts also appear in First on the Moon (1970), the first book about the mission (see here). Koppel’s book is not especially insightful, and often borders on the banal, but I spotted no obvious inaccuracies, and it at least gives a more human portrayal of the astronauts than their own books do – but that’s hardly surprising, given they all had egos as big as the Moon. As far as the Apollo Quartet is concerned, The Astronaut Wives Club will be treated much like Wikipedia – a good place to start, but I’m going to have to look further afield if I want to dig deeper. All the same, it was worth reading, and I hope it’s merely the first book on a group of people who need to be written about more.… (more)
LibraryThing member mrlzbth
This was a great idea for a book, and there are a lot of interesting/entertaining anecdotes in it. Unfortunately, the book is not very well-written. The narrative is poorly organized and has pacing issues, and there are lots of clunky moments involving awkward phrasing and uneven tone. (Most notably the oddly folksy use of "bought the farm" while relating the tragic death of an astronaut. Really???)

I did enjoy the book enough that I would recommend it to those with an interest in the topic, but I will warn friends that it doesn't quite live up to its potential.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
During the 1950 and ‘60s the space race was in full swing. The astronauts who took those huge leaps for mankind became celebrities around the world. This book is the true story of the women who stood behind the men on the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions.

Those alive during those decades might remember some of the names mentioned in the book. I had no idea that the women were under such public scrutiny. Their photos were in Life magazine along with personal tidbits about every aspect of their lives. Like politicians and movie stars, their lives became public domain as Americans clamored for more information about the men behind the space suits. Life magazine even had reporters in their homes while their husbands’ lives hung in the balance on various flights.

Koppel gives the dirty details about the clothes, the fights, and the quirks of the women, but there was certainly a darker side to the story as well. Many of the men were cheating on their wives and multiple marriages ended in divorce. Others ended when something went wrong on a mission and men were lost. The public grieving that followed was painful to read about.

It’s funny, when thinking about astronauts and their incredible courage and accomplishments; I don’t think I’ve ever reflected on the women who stood behind them. How terrifying that must have been to watch your husband be shot off into space in a rocket!

BOTTOM LINE: I really enjoyed learning more about the women behind those famous men. My one complaint is that they tended to all blend together for me. The author jumps between groups of women and it was hard to distinguish one from another.
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LibraryThing member ElizabethBevins
This book has piqued my interest in the early NASA program. I loved getting to know the astronaut's wives. Koppel gives a good overview of each of the missions and the families involved. I enjoyed thinking about the role of the wife at that time in America. This was an easy read and one that would be great for a book club.

This is one of my favorites of 2013.

I received a free copy of this book.
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LibraryThing member librarymary09
Too disjointed to really give the wives their due, though it was interesting.
LibraryThing member middlemedia2
I liked reading about the wives. I was not a fan of this happened and this happened and then this happened writing. It was also hard to keep up with who was who, because the author would start talking about one astronaut or wife and then would through in another. BUT would talk about a different story regarding the second astronaut.… (more)
LibraryThing member kaylaraeintheway
Most of us know the names of the first astronauts in NASA's space program: Glenn, Grissom, Armstrong, Aldrin, Lovell, etc. But what about the wives of these men? Koppel's book explores the lives of the astronaut wives, the strong women who put on brave faces and pearls while they anxiously waited on Earth as their men orbited the Earth and, later, landed on the Moon.

It was fascinating to read about how NASA pretty much forced these women to be perfect American wives, who always have the house clean and breakfast ready for their astronauts at 5 am sharp. When the program first started, an astronaut's chances of going up in to space was largely dependent on how stable and stress-free their marriages were. That meant the wives had to project an air of selflessness, patriotism, and unwavering support for their husbands, despite long absences from home and frequent dalliances with astronaut groupies (called "Cape Cookies"). As the years passed from the prim and proper 60s to the more liberated 70s, however, the women began to break out of the cookie-cutter "Squaresville" that NASA set up for them, and started pursuing careers and activities that they have been wanting to do for years (including a deluge of divorces). I appreciate that Koppel wasn't afraid to talk about the not-so-great things the astronauts and their wives did, instead of painting them all as perfect American Dream families. Koppel gained a lot of her information from face-to-face interviews with some of the wives, and their voices really shine through the pages.

Koppel spent a good amount of time getting us acquainted with the First Seven wives, and they each had distinct personalities. However, as the number of wives grew, Koppel spent less time on most individuals and instead talked about certain specific events and the wives they directly affected. I would have gladly spent another 300 pages reading about each wife in more detail!

Funnily enough, I kept thinking about what an awesome TV show this would make, a la Mad Men. After a quick Google search, I found that they are, in fact, making a TV show! Unfortunately, it's going to air on ABC family so we probably won't get all the grittiness and historical accuracy as it could get on another network, but I'll remain cautiously optimistic.
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LibraryThing member yukon92
Great companion to "The Right Stuff" from many years ago. I wish it had gone into more detail of some of the later astronaut wives. Still, it was a good book and I enjoyed it!
LibraryThing member horomnizon
I really enjoyed reading this non-fiction account of the lives of the women who had to put up with the non-sense of the astronauts, NASA, and reporters in the late 1950's and throughout the 60's. Let's just say this - they put up with a lot and many of them didn't come out the other side with marriages (or minds) in tact. Koppel did her research - spent time with those wives still living and willing - and even though there's a huge cast of characters here, she manages to keep them separated and reminds you who they are with quick statements especially if they haven't appeared in the story for a while. Overall, a really interesting insight to the lives of these families and all the things they had to put up with to allow the men to go into space.… (more)
LibraryThing member elizabeth.b.bevins
This book has piqued my interest in the early NASA program. I loved getting to know the astronaut's wives. Koppel gives a good overview of each of the missions and the families involved. I enjoyed thinking about the role of the wife at that time in America. This was an easy read and one that would be great for a book club.

This is one of my favorites of 2013.

I received a free copy of this book.
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LibraryThing member micahmom2002
An interesting account from the wives of the astronauts of the 60's and 70's and how their lives changed for better or worse after their husbands became part of NASA's programs.
LibraryThing member Carolee888
I listened to the audio version of The Astronauts Wives Club by Lily Koppel. It was a struggle. Partly because a lot of the time the author seems to be very catty about the wives. Much of it had to do with gossip. I have never found gossip appealing whether is true or not. The author gives the picture of the first astronaut wives as being very conformist and eager to please NASA’s picture of the perfect helpmate to their brave viral men. She says that they worse Doris Day like clothes and white gloves. The best part is that they did band together for mutual support. Basically, I thought the book would have been much better written by the wives themselves.

Outside of the support that they gave each other, I did appreciate hearing about the tragedies of the space program and how they dealt with their grief alone and collectively.

The audio book seemed repetitious and I really think that making into a book that you can hear was a mistake because of the voices. The voices of the different women were OK as I did not have any idea what they sounded like in real life. All the voices of the men were flops. I did a double take when President John F. Kennedy sounded like a southerner and President Lyndon Baines Johnson didn’t sound anything like him. I grew up in the 1950s and the 1960s and I was shocked!

This audio book is truly disappointing.
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LibraryThing member jrsearcher
FAB-u-lous addition to the stories told by The Right Stuff and Chuck Yeager's books. Some info isn't new, but the book didn't feel rehashed in any way (to me).
LibraryThing member mom2acat
This is the true story of the lives of the women married to the first astronauts, starting with the original Mercury Seven in 1957. Overnight, they went from being military spouses, to being treated like American royalty. They enjoyed tea with Jackie Kennedy, and appeared on covers and articles in Life magazine.

The wives were closely monitored by NASA, and they were expected to be perfect, right down to the clothes they wore and the food they served their husbands. They could not turn to their husbands to deal with the pressures of publicity, because they were too busy training, and NASA was too busy trying to figure out how to get their husbands to the moon, so the wives turned to each other for support. They were there for each other as they waited for husbands to safely return to earth, and also in times of tragedy.

I really enjoyed this book, but I wish it had been a few chapters longer; while reading, I got wrapped up in the lives of these extraordinary women and I wanted to read even more of their stories. I also wish the author had included a chapter from the point of view of the children of the astronauts.

While looking up some more information online about the wives after I started reading this book, I learned that ABC has a television series in the works based on this book, premiering in June; I am looking forward to watching it and seeing how it compares to the book.
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LibraryThing member bell7
With interviews from the wives of the astronauts of the Mercury and Apollo missions, Lily Koppel gives a different perspective of the space race from the women who stayed behind.

I may have enjoyed the book more if I weren't reading it for book group. I had rather expected something more. More detailed, more meaty, more history? I'm not sure, exactly. I looked up reviews while I was reading, and saw words like "breezy" and "chatty" used to describe it, and that is truly more what it is. It's not the book's fault that it wasn't quite what I wanted. There are many wives that I found easy to mix up, there are many years covered, and much of what is included, as I gather from an author interview, is what Koppel herself found most interesting. All well and good, but sadly it meant that the wives I was most interested in sometimes weren't detailed as much as I'd like and stories like a Russian woman astronaut going into orbit just a little while after John Glenn testified that women shouldn't be in space are told in a few short paragraphs. There is so much that could have been explored deeper. But maybe that's left for me as the reader and book discussion facilitator to do. Unfortunately, though the book is good for what it is, I found it a little disappointing.… (more)
LibraryThing member Icepacklady
Started out so interesting. I was born in 1971 so some of this happened before my time, and I loved hearing the history from this point of view. However, as more wives are added it gets more confusing. I think the beginning is the best. By the time you add the 9 and then the 19 I couldn't keep track anymore. Who was separated at the beginning? Who had been divorced? Why did the kids say these 2 were in love when so-and-so had been cheating.

Like others said, this could have been a lot better. It really skipped around near the end and I got thoroughly confused. I'm glad these women got their stories out, but maybe it should have been done sooner and by someone else. Maybe Rene Carpenter would have written it better.
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LibraryThing member klack128
I really enjoyed this book, and it made for a great audiobook. I found the stories of the wives very interesting, the way they balanced the strain that their husbands' jobs and fame put on their families with the need to always appear to be a perfect housewife, with their family under control.

As a side note, I finished this audiobook on way home from seeing the movie version of the Martian, which added an interesting element to the ending. I was listening to an audiobook that explored issues surrounding the first Americans in space, and then followed that with a fictional (but realistic) tale of further American space exploration. it was very interesting.… (more)
LibraryThing member etxgardener
I got hooked on "The Astronaut Wives Club" TV series this summer, so when I came across this book, I just had to read it. Taken from extensive interviews with the wives of the Mercury through Apollo astronauts (most of whom are still alive) the book gives the reader a mostly horrifying look at these women's lives. Although there were plenty of financial perks (Dollar-a-Year sports cars, stipends from Life magazine for exclusive coverage, practically interest-free mortgages, and lots more), the wives' activities were strictly monitored by NASA to ensure that all the astronaut families were presenting a wholesome All-American image to the American public. In truth, a plurality of the wives were desperately unhappy in constantly deferring to their husband's moods, ignoring their many, many infidelities, coping with worries about the safety of the space missions and generally suppressing any of their personal needs. From a distance of 40 to 50 years, we can see this all very clearly.

This is a relatively quick read, but the author could have made it easier on the reader by not including so many characters or at least having a list of names/missions at the beginning of the book. It was very hard to keep track of who was who towards the end.
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Original publication date


Physical description

xvi, 302 p.; 21 cm


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