Stars fade for those left be­hind

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - BOOKS - TINA STAGG

IN the past few months, I’ve be­come a US space race fa­natic, de­vour­ing more than a dozen books on the Mer­cury, Gemini and Apollo pro­grams.

I can tell you all about Ed White, Amer­ica’s first spacewalker. Tall ( for an astro­naut), hand­some, charis­matic, deeply pa­tri­otic, White to many was the epitome of what an astro­naut should be.

Then he died in the Apollo 1 fire of Jan­uary 1967 that also claimed the lives of Mer­cury and Gemini vet­eran Gus Gris­som, and rookie Roger Chaf­fee.

But un­til I read The Astro­naut Wives Club, I had no idea of what hap­pened to White’s wife, Pat.

De­voted to her hus­band, Pat was lost af­ter his death.

Author Lily Kop­pel writes: “What would Pat do with her time now? Ed had al­ways filled her days, even when he was off work­ing. She had ded­i­cated ev­ery­thing to him. She had cooked gourmet meals. She had han­dled all his cor­re­spon­dence. ‘ She just worked at be­ing Ed’s wife,’ said one of the wives, ‘ and she was won­der­ful at it, and that was all ...’.’’

Else­where, Kop­pel says: “In the days and weeks to come, Pat White asked Su­san [ Bor­man] her ter­ri­fy­ing ques­tions: ‘ Who am I, Su­san? Who am I? I’ve lost ev­ery­thing. It’s all gone’.’’

Pat never re­ally got over White’s death and al­though she re­mar­ried, she com­mit­ted sui­cide in 1983.

I could also tell you about Frank Bor­man, the no- non­sense West Pointer who com­manded Gemini 7 and Apollo 8 – the first flight to or­bit the moon – but I couldn’t have told you of his wife Su­san’s bat­tle with al­co­holism.

The Astro­naut Wives Club fills an im­por­tant gap in the writ­ten his­tory of early manned space­flight.

The sto­ries of th­ese un­sung women and their tri­als, tri­umphs and tragedies deserves to be told and Kop­pel has told it with gen­tle warmth.

The book is also a fas­ci­nat­ing snap­shot of a time when ev­ery­body smoked, women wore bee­hive hair­dos and men blasted off into space on top of mas­sive rock­ets.

It also ex­plores the be­gin­nings of the fem­i­nist move­ment and the af­fect it had on th­ese women, who were ex­pected to put hus­band, fam­ily, home, NASA and coun­try be­fore them­selves al­ways with a smile.

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