The USS Hornet–Featuring Apollo Mission Artifacts and WWII Flying Ace Dean Laird!
The USS Hornet–stationed in Alameda, CA. Of course this was…
I was laying on a beach on a casual Saturday flipping through a magazine when I came across an advertisement for ABC’s Astronaut Wives Club–with my heart going from a soft thumping to almost beating out of my chest I sat up and screamed! Finally a TV show about the Space Race! The Era I didn’t get to live through. This will be the closest I ever get to experiencing it! I love space, I love NASA but I really love the History of the first Space Missions: Mercury, Gemini and Apollo –and now ABC was going to be debuting a show all about the early days of NASA! Does it get any better?
The show would be following the lives of the Mercury 7 Astronauts along with their wives and the NASA program. It began with the first news conference and speculation about who would be the first man up in Freedom 7 (the first manned mission) launched on May 5, 1961. Ooh the 60’s! I genuinely believe that I was born in the wrong Era–I would give anything to be able to step back in time and experience a little bit of the 60’s especially because of the Space program and how it beautifully created unity between fellow Americans.
All of my hopes for this series slowly came to a hault after watching just one episode. Now, don’t get me wrong–I knew this was not going to be a completely accurate portrayal and I had an idea, that of course ABC would be taking creative liberties but I had no idea that they would be smearing the names of our American Hero’s and NASA for that matter. For starters Alan Shepard is painted as a low-life cheating man–it is true that Alan was accused over the years of being a little bit of womanizer but in reality Louise and Alan were Married for 53 years and very devoted to each other according to Neal Thompsons biography of Alan Shepard. Another attack on the Sheperds was that Louise had an affair or “almost affair” with a Life Magazine Reporter named Max Kaplan–go ahead google Max Kaplan, you won’t find anything because he simply is not real. He was a fictional character that ABC made up for the show. Way to Go ABC–let’s not only make Alan Shepard (our first American Man in Space) look like a low-life but let’s also smear his wife’s reputation at the same time. For a woman that was nicknamed “St. Louise,” that’s quite a far fetched story line don’t you think? Isn’t the marriage of our American Hero’s kind of an untouchable subject–especially when these people are no longer with us and can’t defend themselves anymore? Why are we re-writing history in a negative way? On to Virgil “Gus” Grissom, one of my favorite Astronauts. The hatch had blown prematurely on his Liberty Bell 7 upon splash down causing water to rush into the capsule and almost drown Grissom. There is footage on youtube if you would like to see. The Liberty Bell 7 sunk to the bottom of the ocean along with all the research and data with it. In the episode about Gus and the capsule ABC wrote a storyline of NASA accusing him of trying to open the door of the hatch upon splash down–meaning that he panicked. In reality, Grissom had always said that the hatch had blown on it’s own and NASA never held him accountable for the blowing of the hatch but in this episode Grissom is declared “not guilty” by the end after an investigation. In reality, again, there was an investigation looking into what made the hatch blow but NOT about whether Grissom was guilty or not of opening it from within. The problem I have with this is I feel like ABC is painting these Astronauts as Victims of NASA.
Gus Grissom was no victim of NASA and believed in the Space program whole heartedly. He is quoted saying “If we die, we want people to accept it. We’re in a risky business, and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.”–now does that sound like a man that would panic? Nope!
Furthermore, ABC has added fuel to the bogus conspiracy theory of Gus Grissom’s death in the Apollo 1 testing tragedy. The episode shows Betty Grissom leaving her husband’s funeral and being handed a note by a man that tells her there is more for her to hear about her husbands death.
She meets up with this man and he goes on to tell her that he checked the Capsule and made some notes about things that needed to fixed before the testing and basically that NASA had destroyed the evidence of these notes and put the men in a faulty capsule anyway. In reality, there were problems with the capsule and the men knew the risks. There was a wire near the feet of the men that was exposed and with the capsule being filled with 100 percent pure oxygen the spark from the wire caused the capsule to go into flames.
Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chafee lost their lives on January 27, 1967. After the incident major changes were made to the capsule. All flamable items were removed, the hatch was redesigned to open in seconds if need be and the 100 percent oxygen environment was replaced with a mixture of nitrogen and oxygen along with the Astronauts and contractors working more closely together. On the show it depicts the Astronauts families wanting the program to slow down after the deaths but that was not the truth–the program moved on with the full support of the families.
Moving on to Gordon Cooper–in the series he is depicted, basically as a brain-less idiot. These men were military Test Pilots and Cooper was an Air Force Major. So, let’s just go over, real quick, what being a Test Pilot in the 50’s and 60’s meant. Those were the early days of the Supersonic flight. These Test Pilots flew the un-trustworthy and risky jets taking on the task of going faster then the speed of sound. Some that set out on experimental aircrafts didn’t return. They were willing to risk their lives in order to further the science of flight. Now does that sound like a idiot to you? I think not!
Let’s take a quick look about the little scene ABC did about Rene Carpenter-Scott’s wife. They did a scene about a press conference with her saying that she would not be praying for Scott while he was in space. However, in the book “For Spacious Skies,” Scott and his daughter say that they certainly prayed but what they prayed for was private. See Scott Carpenter below.
I am happy to report that it seems for the most part John and Annie Glen were portrayed accurately as the God fearing, polite, moral, and ethical people that they were! Thank you ABC!! They made it through 31 moves, two wars, four Senate terms and two spaceflights. John Glenn was quoted saying “to look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible,” obviously a man of great wisdom.
And I had to pop this little tidbit in–who doesn’t love Jim Lovell and the Apollo 13 story? ABC shows how Jim and his wife Marilyn hid her pregnancy from NASA–which is true! Jim launched on Gemini 7 for 2 weeks and Marilyn gave birth a couple weeks later on January 14, 1966. These are our Space Pioneers–the men who truly risked their lives for the Space Race! Every time a man put himself in that capsule they were taking the risk of death and the risk of leaving everything that they held dear to them behind and they were well aware of this! I don’t think Hollywood has the right to smear the personal lives of our American Hero’s so carelessly. I feel that episode by episode they are slaying each Astronaut and re-writing the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo Missions History. What about the young people who perhaps don’t know about our nations NASA history–what if they are mistaking this “Mad Men meets Real Housewives of NASA” for truth?
I wrote this post after seeing articles all over the internet doing re-caps and writing as if the episodes are accurate pieces of history. It was quite shocking to be honest.
To end on a positive note–what I do really like about the show are the clothes, the cars and the general Era–ABC did a great job of making you believe you are really taking a peek back into the 60’s. I will give them credit for that!
What about you? What do you think of the series? Leave me a comment–I would really love to hear what other people think!
Click here for my post about the NASA Ames Visitor Center–location of the first Mercury Mission Capsule! –And for a straight from the “Mercury 7 mouths themselves” book check out the one below–I am reading it right now!
Happy Space History Exploring!
*All real life photos were taken from Wikipedia Commons and are considered public domain except for the one of John and Annie Glenn. Click here for the photo credit. The rest of the photos were screen grabs from my Tivo. I purchased the book with my own money.