JOHNSON SPACE CENTER — The book that chronicled the stories of the wives of America’s first astronauts is now a TV series.
“The Astronaut Wives Club,” based on the book of the same name by author Lily Koppel, debuts tonight an ABC-TV.
Koppel’s book was published in 2013 and tells the real back-story of the women who became known as Astrowives.
“It is often times the most interesting insights into history we find in sort of the margins of history — (the history) we find through wives’ stories, diaries to look beyond the hero and the limelight to see the supporting cast,” Koppel said of the book’s subjects.
The wives of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo-era astronauts were a tight-knit group of women who said the right thing, took care of the house and kids and, on occasion, would have tea with First Lady Jackie Kennedy.
“From the moment I came up with the idea to write a book on the astronaut wives when I saw a picture of them from an old Life magazine in their skyrocketing beehives and in their Pucci mini-dresses, I felt like I was watching a great TV show,” Koppel said. “The wives’ story has such pathos, drama, it is the other side of the Moon so to speak. What the women and children were going through back on earth while their astronauts were in space, going where no man has gone before.”
The 10-part TV series focuses on the lives of the wives of the Mercury 7 astronauts: Betty Grissom, Rene Carpenter, Louise Shepard, Trudy Cooper, Marge Slayton, Annie Glenn and Jo Schirra.
The bond those women formed was key to the success of the U.S. space program when it was in its infancy.
“They all decided they needed to rely on each other,” Koppel said. “They had no one else but each other that understood what they were going through — even if just what to do, what to say, how to brush something under the rug that would be considered taboo at the time.”
Viewers will quickly learn what Koppel did when she wrote the book. Scott Carpenter’s wife was the leader of the Astronaut Wives Club, but Deke Slayton’s wife was the mother of the wives who would follow.
Rene Carpenter, played by Yvonne Strajovski, was the pseudo leader and maybe a bit of a rebel in the group. In the Life magazine photo that inspired Koppel to write the book, she showed up in a flower-patterned cocktail dress.
Each set of wives would take the next class of astronaut wives under its guidance. Marge Slayton, played by Erin Cummings, became known as “Mother Marge.”
“All those younger astronaut wives were like her little chickies,” Koppel said.
Koppel believes the retro feel of the show will lure viewers to learn more.
“In true retro spirit, I hope people will read the book as they tune into the show,” Koppel said. “These incredible women, strong personalities, trailblazers were the quiet heroes in the background, they never really got the credit they deserved.
“I hope Americans will celebrate them for their contribution, their friendship and the wife stuff.”
Koppel served as a consultant for the series, but is hopeful the audience will want to know more.
“The producers and creators could bounce questions off of me,” she said. “I hope people read the book to hear the real women’s voices themselves and to learn about their friendship that has endured for 50-plus years.”