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He sits with eighteen of his peers in a room at the Manned Spacecraft Center while reporters launch questions, most of which could be answered by referring to the press releases NASA has handed out; and he’s wearing his best suit, it’s served him well for several years, the best he can afford on his USAF captain’s salary although he’d much rather be wearing a flight suit or maybe his Air Force service dress, but NASA were clear on the protocol and four of the guys are civilians anyway. So he’s trying to show he has the Right Stuff coming out the wazoo, because there’s not just the other guys in Group 5 but the Mercury guys and the astronaut groups NASA picked in ‘62, ‘63 and ‘65, and he knows he’s going to be compared to them just as much as he will be to the guys sitting up here with him on the dais… [private]
He’s there in the “barrel” and his wife, she’s back in New York, because this was not an assignment she could turn down, not unless she wanted bookers and editors to “forget” her face; so she’s one of half a dozen models striking poses and swallowing insults from a photographer with an ego the size of the Moon because Vogue is doing a feature on Pierre Cardin and his space age designs. She thinks briefly on her husband, and maybe he’s going to the Moon like the President said – and that’s kind of ironic because two years before she modelled for André Courrèges’ “Moon Girl” collection – but at another barked order from the photographer she’s back in herself, and she’s not going to forget it – the metallic silver Lurex tights are scratchy, the long vinyl gloves are sticky under the hot lights, the blue “Cardine” dress with its pattern moulded into the fabric like a goddamn eggbox – they say Cardin invented the material with Union Carbide – the dress is heavy though it hangs beautifully, the black vinyl high-heeled boots are just as hot as the gloves, and the hat, or whatever the hell it is, more like a bonnet, she can feel the brim of it tight across her forehead; but at least she’s not wearing the one that looks like an upturned bucket. Despite all that, she does feel kind of space age and she can imagine a future where she might wear these clothes while her husband goes to work in outer space.
And that night, she gets a phone call from her husband and he wants her in Houston to set up home, because NASA is all super-family and wives are wives first and nothing else second, unless they have kids, in which case they’re mothers too. He’s picked out a plot of land on Nassau Bay and he wants her there to find a contractor and oversee building the house while he’s at the Cape training to be an astronaut. They fight. She has a career to think of, they agreed she could do this until they were ready to start a family – and she privately accepts she’s delayed that start time after time – and if he can go and strap himself to a rocket and get blasted into space, she doesn’t see why suddenly he has a goddamn problem with her appearing in Vogue and McCall’s and Harper’s Bazaar…
He’ll win, she’s known from the beginning he will win, and in defeat she belatedly realises that all along he “allowed” her this last year in New York because he was so busy with his secret project, that Mach 3 fighter jet, back at Edwards AFB. But that’s all over, that’s all done; and now? Now he’s an astronaut.
The house gets built but she even does that wrong, because she picks a different builder to the one used by all the other astronaut families; and now the resentment lies heavy over Nassau Bay like the oily miasma which pollutes the air from the refineries down the coast. They’re the only couple with no children – and he acts like this this means they’ve failed in their patriotic duty, but she had no intention of ever giving up her career, she married him for love not to become a brood mare for the family name. So they build the house, she moves in and she goes to the tea parties at the Lakewood Yacht Club, and the Astronaut Wives Club’s meetings, she’s not the only one that had a modelling career though she was by far the most successful, and certainly the longest to resist playing the Air Force wife; but this life, this world, is stultifying, oppressive, and she wants New York back, she wants the glamour and the lights and the haute couture back.
So when she hears about the “Cape cookies” and she doesn’t want to believe he’s as faithless as the rest of them, she flies down there and she struts into the Holiday Inn wearing something by Paco Rabanne that was on the catwalks of Paris only a couple of years before, one of his “12 Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials”, but it’s not unwearable now; although this particular dress is a Chip-an-Outfit kit from Mass Originals, not that she’s ever going to tell anyone, and it looks goddamn space age. There’s her husband in his blue NASA flight jacket with its flame-orange Rayon lining, looking every inch the astronaut, sitting pretty at the top of the pyramid, and so he should as they’ve just announced the crew for the next flight, so yes, he’s really going to the Moon. She stands there in the doorway of the hotel bar, and all the press present turn to look at her, and she knows she looks like she just fell out of the future into Space City, where they send men into space every day. It took her weeks to make this minidress, connecting up all the little white plastic discs with metal rings, it makes faint clacking noises as she moves – how space age is that – and she’s wearing it over a white shift to preserve some modesty and white pantyhose – and there sits her husband, he’s in the real space age, he’s going into space, to the Moon.
He jumps to his feet and rushes across to her, and it’s all baby baby, I thought you were back home, what are you doing here; and she can see some of the guys and those women they’re with are not their wives, but at least he is alone, at least there’s no “cookie” she can see might have been his; and she’s starting to feel a bit foolish, that maybe she misjudged him, maybe she put too much credence in rumours, these “Original Nineteen” are not the “Sacred Seven” after all, things have changed. But now there’s photographers and this she does know how to do, so they pose and she tells them she had a sudden urge to see her husband and congratulate him, and she makes no mention of the other wives’ stories about what goes on at the Cape because it’s just occurred to her they’re trapped back in Houston by their children, by their lives; and they envy her the freedom being childless should have given her, but up until now she’s been too blind to see it.
On the day, she sits on the floor before the television set in the commander’s house, while behind her the other wives see to food and drinks for those present, but her husband’s only the LMP so all the attention is focused on the commander’s wife; but they’re both in the same situation, their husbands currently inhabiting a tiny cabin with aluminium walls no thicker than a Coke can’s, on a tiny world with no air, a world that can kill in a heartbeat. She’s proud, thrilled and happy – they all are, they always will be, to admit to anything else would jeopardise their husbands’ careers – although as he’s about to set foot on the lunar surface there’s not much higher he can go. She knows soon she will have to go outside with the other two wives and talk to the press, so she’s chosen her outfit with care. Since Emilio Pucci designed the mission patch, she thought it fitting to wear one of his creations, not that many will realise, a silk jersey minidress in a bold print, but she’s not wearing the matching leggings, the other wives nixed that, just tan pantyhose and sandals. She stopped feeling space age a year earlier when they announced the crew for this mission, she’s not been in Space City since, and nowhere near the future, she’s not even in the present – all these astronaut wives, it’s like the ‘50s, like the ‘60s never happened, never mind it’s now the ‘70s. Her husband told her, in no uncertain terms, she was an astronaut’s wife and nothing else, and just maybe he can forgive her not wanting to start a family, not just yet anyhow, but she’s got to fly straight and get in formation, because he’s depending on her, she’s his wingman. And she bit back the retorts and put her ambitions on hold and vowed to herself she’s going to be “primly stable” while he flies to the Moon…
Which is where he is now, of course, backing out of the LM’s hatch, bouncing down the ladder affixed to the landing leg, and now he turns to the TV camera on the LM, waves and then jumps up, propelling himself upwards using his ankles, because this A7LB spacesuit is keeping him alive but it’s no picnic wearing it, with its twenty-one layers – Teflon-coated Beta Cloth, aluminized Kapton, Beta marquisette, aluminized Mylar, Dacron, Neoprene-coated nylon, nylon, Neoprene-coated nylon bladder restraint, Neoprene bladder, knit jersey laminate and Nomex comfort layer – worn over a Liquid Cooling Garment; and the polycarbonate helmet and over it the Lunar Extravehicular Visor Assembly with its gold-coated visor, all made for him at a cost of around $400,000. But if he damages it, it’s going to cost him more than that, it’ll cost him his life.
On the good green Earth, heart-breakingly lonely and precious in a black sky above the lunar horizon, it’s late afternoon and the Texan sun beats down on Nassau Bay, the air is like a glass dish hot from the oven, and she stands outside the commander’s house before the world, one of three wives. She’s doing her best to be proud, thrilled and happy, though the Pucci’s a little loud, but the press have decided she’s “quirky” and they like that. She looks up but it’s too bright and the Moon isn’t visible, and she’s thinking about what she’s just seen on the television, what’s she’s just heard on the “squawk box” provided by NASA – her husband the living embodiment of American know-how, American can-do, in a place where nothing can live; and there’s nothing quirky about his A7LB spacesuit.
But here in Nassau Bay, this is not the space age – though she has worn the label for years, clad by a succession of designers trying to create the future, she knows the real space age is not in her closet but on another world, a grey and lifeless world.
Once, she was a “Moon Girl;” but she knows now she’ll never go to the Moon.