Sunday, January 13, 2013

Unsung Heroes of the Space Age, Part 1: Rene Carpenter



Scott and Rene Carpenter cut a rug before his 1962 orbital mission. LIFE magazine photo.

I spend too much time writing about astronauts, so I wanted to diverge a bit and discuss some of the unsung heroes of the 1960s space age - namely, the astronauts' wives, who in their own way, probably experienced as much stress (if not more) as their spouses. Author Lily Koppel's The Astronaut Wives Club is coming out June 11, looks like a must-read and will touch on the lives of these brave women. 

I'd first like to discuss Rene Carpenter, wife of Aurora 7 astronaut Scott Carpenter. She and Scott were the Ultimate Glamour Couple of NASA during the early 1960s. That notwithstanding, Rene was pretty badass in her own right. She had her own syndicated newspaper column called A Woman, Still, and after her divorce from Scott, she had her own TV show called Everywoman. In this medium, she tackled controversial topics, encompassing feminism and birth control. She also campaigned for Robert Kennedy prior to his untimely 1968 assassination. A 1975 People magazine article discusses her time in the spotlight - she was 47 at the time and showed no sign of slowing down. She was enthusiastic: "I have always been a warm and wonderful wood nymph." 


 Scott and Rene Carpenter, 1959 LIFE photo.



Last two photos: LIFE magazine, late 1960s.
 
A blog post by My Pretty Baby Cried She Was a Bird is loaded with awesome photos of Rene and Scott. I was always very impressed by Rene's reaction to her husband's very stressful spaceflight - he was actually lost at one point and splashed off-target, freaking out most of the nation (understandably). However, Rene, in the accompanying LIFE photo set, looks calm and in-control. Following his recovery, she said to the press at Cape Canaveral, "I was dry-eyed the whole day. I'm not a brooding person by nature." She was tough as nails. Much respect to this amazing woman who kept it together when most people would've crumbled.


A smile of relief: Rene Carpenter on the phone learning that her husband splashed down safely, 1962 LIFE photo.