The yearlong wait for The Astronaut Wives Club television arrival is finally over. While the show got a series order last February and was geared up for a July 24 premiere date last summer, ABC bumped The Astronaut Wives Club to take care of some creative changes, and so here we are. TAWC kicks off just ahead of Alan Shepard’s launch into space on May 5, 1961, and the Astro-families have gathered to watch Alan (Desmond Harrington) hopefully make history. Meanwhile Alan’s wife Louise (Dominique McElligott) sits by herself in her living room, as she learns that NASA has lost contact with her husband. Life reporter Max Kaplan (Luke Kirby) asks an anxious Louise if she has any words to share with the magazine’s readers, a question that receives no response.
Cut to two years earlier, when Louise marches into Alan’s office, where he’s getting cozy with a secretary. Louise brings a phone message from NASA, and when Alan returns the call, he learns he’s landed a spot on the team NASA will try to send to space.
And after Dwight Eisenhower introduces the country to the Project Mercury astronauts at a press conference, the astronauts and their wives then head to a swanky party hosted by Life, who Alan reveals will exclusively cover Project Mercury. NASA’s PR officer Dunan Pringle (Evan Handler) is at the party trying to convince Max to ask the Mercury wives to share their stories with the magazine, saying the publicity is important to President John F. Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, and winning the Space Race against Russia. On the dance floor, Louise and Alan get their first taste of the other astronauts and their wives with Scott (Wilson Bethel) and Rene Carpenter (Yvonne Strahovski). Dressed in a sparkly Pepto-Bismol pink dress, blonde Rene introducers herself as “Rene, rhymes with peachy keen,” and we immediately know she and Louise won’t always see eye-to-eye.
The Shepards then meet John (Sam Reid) and Annie Glenn (Azure Parsons), for whom her husband does most of the talking. Louise fakes her enthusiasm regarding meeting the rest of the wives before saying to Alan, “I’m about to be forced into bridge and bake sales with a bunch of wives. Hard to say who’s facing a bigger challenge.” All eyes then turn to Trudy Cooper (Odette Annable), having the time of her life dancing with husband Gordo (Bret Harrison). As we get closer to the dancing couple, Gordo inches his way up Trudy’s leg, prompting her to reveal that copping a feel isn’t part of their “deal.”
Alan leaves Louise’s side to grab a cigar with Deke Slayton (Kenneth Mitchell) and Wally Schirra (Aaron McCusker), who’s already pulled two dorky pranks in the span of about five seconds. Wide-eyed Betty Grissom (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) introduces herself to a lone Louise, before the wives convene at the bar. Marge Slayton (Erin Cummings) is telling a story about how she flawlessly wrote up a memo for General Douglas MacArthur while working overseas in Japan, and Jo Schirra (Zoe Boyle) remarks that being overseas and unmarried must’ve been quite the adventure.
The conversation quickly heats up as the women begin trying to prove their husband as the most likely man to take the first trip into space. Trudy Cooper declares her husband Gordo has no competition, and Jo believes John Glenn will be the first astronaut to make the voyage. In an attempt to quell the tension, Louise says, “Our husbands all want to go up first. It’s our job to help them get what they want.” Rene takes issue with this statement, saying she doesn’t think of being a wife as a job, as she attended college and raises four children. Marge assures her, “Every woman works.”
Max interrupts to pitch the Astrowives the idea of having Life tell their stories to America. He explains they’d each receive a $100,000 life insurance policy, and half a million dollars to split among the seven families. Rene isn’t sure if it’d be right for the wives to step into their husbands’ limelight, but Max asks if they’ll do it for America. He adds that doing so would also help support their husbands, so of course, the wives agree.
The ladies’ road to fame starts with a group photo shoot. Trudy and Marge carpool to the location, and Trudy admits that she finds her husband Gordo arrogant and infuriating at times. Mrs. Cooper, a former pilot herself, hopes if she plays her cards right, she’ll be heading up into space soon. All the wives arrive to the shoot in pastel shirtwaist dresses, except for Rene, who dons a floral frock, eliciting dirty looks from the rest of the wives.
Duncan gives each of the wives their own station wagon, to the dismay of Rene, who hoped to pick out a car that better matched her personality. He tells the wives the toilet bowl colored cars, as Marge puts it, were picked out by NASA because they send the “right message.” Their husbands, on the other hand, get sports cars.
Before a barbeque at the Grissoms’, Max marvels at how good the property looks for not having a man around. Betty’s explains to Max that with her husband constantly away risking his life, the last thing she wants him to do when he returns home is mow the lawn. Rene shows up fashionably late to the barbeque, wearing an outfit that matches the dessert she brought.
At the Slaytons’ (the families live in close proximity to one another, if not next door), the Shepard kids discover Marge’s robes from her time in Japan, in a suitcase marked with another man’s name. With a past controversial for the time, Marge admits to Louise she doesn’t feel like she can compete with the other Astrowives. But all the wives have their secrets.
NEXT: The astronauts let loose ahead of the first launch