SPACE RACE aces dissed by bitter mates in tell-all book shocker – Booze, Cheating, TERROR!
THE wives of America’s pioneering astronauts – from the Mercury Project to the Apollo missions – have been depicted as happy homemakers eagerly watching their heroic and squeaky-clean husbands embark on the greatest space adventures known to mankind.
BUT the book The Astronaut Wives Club, reveals their idyllic image hid tales of fear, adultery and booze.
“The men were almost God-like,” Jane Conrad, wife of the third man to walk on the moon, Pete Conrad, tells author Lily Koppel. “They were the rock stars. And we were the Stepford wives.”
Harriet Eisele, whose husband Donn was aboard the first manned Apollo mission, Apollo 7, in 1968,recalls her mate “became a different person” after being selected by NASA in 1963.
“His absences became more than conspicuous,” says Harriet, 83, “He was hardly around and he would spend his weekends attending the many parties he had been invited to.” She suspected he was having affairs, but when confronted, Donn “would say I was crazy and how they were all going to get killed.”
But eventually, Harriet realized “there had been a woman for years. There had been lots,” and in 1969 became the frst astro- astro-wife to file for divorce.
And others were to follow. According to the book, Jane Conrad was in denial, even though the press had dubbed hubby Pete, Dick Gordon and Alan Shepard the Go-Go Crew for their love of fast times and partying.
Soon after Harriet’s divorce, Jane got a call from Barbara Gordon.
“She was saying that Dick wanted a divorce and she was crying and crying, and I hadn’t even thought about Pete,” she says. “A lot of people knew Pete was up to something, but they didn’t want to tell me.”
Koppel writes Conrad finally asked Jane for a divorce, telling her he’d been having affairs for 16 of their 30-plus years of marriage.
Besides the cheating, the wives also reveal their terrible fears over the immense danger their men faced.
Jane even developed a special bedmaking routine to ward off bad luck. Betty Grissom talks about how her husband Gus would discuss the fact that they could get killed.
Gus perished in Apollo 1 with fellow astronauts Ed White and Roger Chaffee when the Command Module interior caught fire in 1967. Betty sued NASA’s contractor, North American Rockwell, and won a $350,000 settlement.
The book also portrays John Glenn as arrogant, tells how Alan Shepard, the first American in space, was a swinger and describes the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, as “emotionally unavailable” to his wife Jan.
Buzz Aldrin, too, was cold toward his spouse Joan, had alcoholism problems and suffered from depression resulting in a near nervous breakdown.
Far from the depiction of all- American heroes, “Wives Club” paints a picture of the early spacemen as a group caught up in their glory and tempted by an army of “astro-groupies.”
“They WERE big shots,” says Betty Grissom. “They just thought they were cute.”