AirTalk for July 2, 2013

How astronaut wives defined the face of NASA

Lily Koppel's new book, "The Astronaut Wives Club," features the untold story of the women behind America's space heroes.

A family photo of "Buzz" Aldrin, his first wife Joan and their three children.

Gus Grissom and John Young and their families

Astronaut Wives Club

Gemini 3 astronauts Gus Grissom and John Young and their families receive a ceremonial welcome in Houston (aka Space City, U.S.A.) upon their return home from their Gemini mission. Betty Grissom (left) and Barbara Young (right) were greeted by the mayor and given a dozen yellow roses.


Lily Koppel’s new book looks at how a hidden group of women defined America’s history — astronaut wives. When Koppel travelled the country interviewing the wives of famous astronauts like Neil Armstrong and “Buzz” Aldrin, who walked on the moon in 1969, the wives talked about the pressures of being married to these high-profile men.

In “The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story,” the women liken themselves to looking like “Stepford wives,” maintaining the image of a perfect marriage and perfect family. Fast-forward 30 years, and we see these space heroes in the news again, but this time battling alcoholism and divorce.

Joan Aldrin, the first wife of Buzz Aldrin, tells AirTalk about how she raised her children like a single mom while her husband was in training. And when he came home from space, Joan Aldrin expected everything to return to normalcy, for her children to have their father back, but instead saw her husband become an alcoholic and faced the reality that nothing would ever be the same.

Why does Koppel call astronaut wives the first reality TV stars? How did they define NASA’s public image? What were these celebrity astronauts like behind closed doors? How did space travel change America and change these families?

Guests:
Lily Koppel, author of “The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story;” also wrote “The Red Leather Diary” (Harper, 2008); she has written for the New York Times, New York Times Magazine, Huffington Post, and Glamour.

Joan Aldrin, first wife of astronaut “Buzz” Aldrin, who was part of the Apollo 11 mission and was the second person to step on the moon in 1969


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