Stars fade for those left behind
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.