The race to beat the Russians continues, and this week we get two launches for the price of one. “Protocol” dives into just that—NASA protocol and how it affects the astronauts and their wives. With Gus Grissom’s launch up next and John Glenn’s not far behind, here’s how the episode plays out for the seven Astro-couples:
Annie & John Glenn
“Protocol” opens with Annie struggling with her stutter as she helps Betty shop for a dress to wear to the White House after Gus’ launch. With John’s launch not too far away, Duncan meets with the Glenns to discuss the “PR challenges” that may occur when it’s John’s turn. John assures Duncan NASA has nothing to worry about: Annie’s stutter will be under control and America will love her.
When the big day comes, NASA scraps the launch due to inclement weather. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson calls Annie to apologize for the delay and says he’ll be over with camera crews from the three television networks to offer his condolences on camera. Annie doesn’t want LBJ coming into her home and broadcasting her across three networks, and she calls Glenn down in Florida to tell him as much. While NASA officials threaten to take John off the launch if he doesn’t tell Annie to allow the vice president into their home, John stands by his wife.
All the wives support Annie’s decision and the other six astronauts refuse to take John’s spot on the launch. So three months later, John heads up for the United States’ first orbital mission and remains in space for almost five hours. A celebratory parade follows in New York City, and silent-but-sweet Annie makes sure all the space families are included.
Louise & Alan Sheppard
Marge, Jo, Trudy, and Rene play cards as they watch Alan tell the story of how he and Louise met on a talk show. Up until John’s launch, Alan is still the star of the space program. But he’s not satisfied with only 15 minutes in space, without a window on the capsule.
Following a walk with Life writer Max Kaplan and Betty, Louise slowly comes to the realization that it’s okay to show emotion, and even tells Betty she showed more strength during Gus’ launch than she herself did during Alan’s.
Betty & Gus Grissom
Speaking of Gus’ launch, which went down before John’s, not everything went as planned. The day of the launch, Betty was a mess, getting so worked up she drops and breaks an egg (gasp!). But no worries—Max knows what Life readers want to hear, and the article he writes will still say Betty was “the epitome of reserved strength.” The wives gather around the TV to watch with Betty and her sons when the broadcaster declares a delay in the launch. While the launch takes place the same day and Gus seems to land safely, the champagne pops prematurely as Betty and the rest of America learn the hatch has blown early and water has begun to flood the capsule. Just moments after a second helicopter brings Gus home safely, Betty is on her front lawn taking questions from reporters who bombard her with questions about what they believe to be Gus’ blunder.
As a result of the botched landing, the Grissoms don’t receive a trip to Washington. Instead they get a weekend at a secluded beach home, an investigation into Gus’ flight, and Bridgette Bardot in Gus’ place on the cover of Life. And the Grissoms’ oldest son gets into a fight at school because one of his classmates said Gus “screwed the pooch” on the launch (a sign of the times that a child actually knows what that expression means and uses it seriously).
Betty takes a trip to Florida hoping to ease some of the tension that’s built since Gus’ flight, and while she’s there, Gus shows Betty the unseen footage from his launch. The tape reveals Gus nearly drowning as NASA tries to save the capsule. Ultimately, Gus feels disappointed he couldn’t give Betty her dinner with Jackie Kennedy in Washington. He has good news at the parade thought: NASA completed the investigation and concluded the blown hatch was not his fault.
Also of importance, we learn Gus’ real name is Virgil.
NEXT: NASA does not like a woman with a past…
Marge & Deke Slayton
Some new information about Marge Slayton’s past came out this week, too. When a detective shows up at her door—to which Marge responds, “No one in this house has a use for a private dick”—he threatens to print a story telling America about Marge’s first marriage. Marge offers the detective $200 (her “rainy day money”) to keep quiet about her past, but instead of a bribe, he wants a juicy story to print in place of hers. Unwilling to dish on any of the astronauts or their wives, Marge considers coming clean, but Deke advises her otherwise. Per Jo’s advice, Marge makes Duncan aware of the situation, spilling about her abusive father who worked for the railroad and her first marriage. Duncan assures Marge her story will never be printed, a promise he makes sure of by threatening to take away the detective’s license.
With that taken care of, a new crisis arises. Marge learns NASA has taken away Deke’s launch, which was set to follow John’s. Deke doesn’t yet disclose the reason, but it seems Marge’s past might have played a role in NASA’s decision.
Jo & Wally Schirra
Partially due to her loyalty to The Navy Wife, Jo helped the Astrowives out of a few sticky situations this week. First she guides Marge to Duncan, since “It’s his job to make sure we get presented in public in the best light possible.” Then she takes Vice President Johnson’s call when he phones Annie after John’s launch gets delayed. Jo handles the call diplomatically, and while she first believes Annie should let Johnson in, Jo quickly changes her mind to support Annie and John. Jo embodies the idea that military types really do protect their own.
Rene & Scott Carpenter
While preparing for Gus’ launch, Rene introduces Primly Stable, a personification of how NASA expects the perfect Astrowife to act. Primly never gets nervous for her husband’s trip to space. She waits at home, praying and perfecting a new omelet recipe for her husband to try upon his return. Lady Louise, as she’s been nicknamed, thinks Primly reflects her, and Marge doesn’t disagree.
Trudy & Gordo Cooper
Gordo’s stubborn attitude starts to show this week, as does Trudy’s disappointment in being an astronaut’s wife instead of the one exploring space. Trudy learns one of her old flying colleagues won an air race, and Gordo won’t indulge her with details of what’s going on at the Cape, her last link to pilot life. Still, Gordo assures Trudy of the importance of her job as an Astrowife, despite feeling like she’s missing out.
The pair takes a break from fighting to fly together, but the bickering picks up when Gordo refuses to let Trudy take control, even though he piloted last time. “Name once in your life when you haven’t gotten exactly what you want,” Trudy says to Gordo before calling Jo to pick her up.
Trudy’s role as a stay-at-home mom alongside a man she no longer loves may cause her to file those divorce papers as soon as Project Mercury ends. But with the gaffe during Gus’ flight and Deke’s launch no longer taking place, things aren’t exactly proceeding as NASA—or anyone—planned.