When I heard about Lily Koppel’s new book about the early days of the space program, I was all over it. A child of the 60s, I sat in on school launch/splashdown assemblies in the gym. I wanted to be one of those high fliers, soaring into space, wearing a silver suit. Until my fourth grade teacher, Mr. Walton, broke the news that NASA was only looking for men, I spent my recess time on the swings, pumping hard, imagining reaching the stars. Alas. At that time–1967–a woman’s only route to Cape Canaveral was in the passenger’s seat of her test pilot husband’s Corvette.
Lily Koppel does a good job reconstructing the events around the Mercury program. The story she tells parallels the epic Tom Wolfe gave readers in The Right Stuff. If you are hoping for a tell-all, no holds barred, you will be disappointed. This isn’t that book. Koppel does, however, introduce these seven women with respect and by the end, you will have a better understanding of how America’s expectations for women were significant factors in determining which men would become the Cold War heroes of outer space. As the 60s move on and the wives of the Gemini and Apollo missions join this exclusive club, Koppel builds her book around these female friendships forged living under constant scrutiny, deferred dreams, and the unspoken realities of adultery, danger and death.
This was a good read for me to kick off the summer. It left me wanting to know more which is always a sign of something in a book.