By Lily Koppel. (Grand Central Publishing, 288 pages, $28.)

"The Astronaut Wives Club" is about the spouses of the men who orbited in space capsules. But it's really a time capsule of life on Earth. Lily Koppel begins in 1959, when the Mercury 7 program was launched, and follows events through 1966, talking with several dozen wives in all. The book is touted as the first to document their lives, which is rather stunning — and telling. Koppel gained their trust (with the exception of Annie Glenn), letting them finally describe what it was like being married to extraordinarily focused and competitive men, whose understandable obsession with space flight relegated domestic life to an afterthought. The wives bonded over the specter of doomed rockets, over NASA's blithe discounting of their concerns, over "The Feminine Mystique," over Jackie Kennedy when they were invited to the White House if their husbands' missions succeeded. Their own mission was to always project confidence and composure. Not surprisingly, that took a toll. These are women for whom Tang instant breakfast drink never seemed as marvelous as it did to other Americans.


Features writer