The spouses of the Mercury 7 astronauts were the Real Housewives of NASA — women thrust into the spotlight while their husbands rocketed to fame as key players in the space race. "Their husbands became rock stars overnight," says JoAnna Garcia Swisher, who stars as Betty Grissom in this summer's ABC drama The Astronaut Wives Club. "The wives had no frame of reference to what was happening." We talk with the wife of Cleveland Indians first baseman Nick Swisher about the show, meeting Grissom and her own high-profile lifestyle.
Q. How did you approach your role as Betty Grissom?
A. The book, [The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel], was a very important part of my research. All of us approached this story with a lot of love and respect. The show is very realistic and authentic. It's a story of sisterhood, friendships, commitment and love.
Q. While recruiting its first astronauts, NASA sought married men with families. How much pressure did wives experience?
A. These men were very comfortable with the risks, but there was a lot that was expected of the women. These women lived with fear on a daily basis, but everyone wanted them to be perfect. They had tea with Jackie Kennedy and were on the cover of Life magazine. They had their fun, but I don't know if they had the same kind of fun as their husbands were having.
Q. Gus Grissom was the second American to fly in space but died at age 40 in a fire during the Apollo 1 mission. What was it like meeting his widow?
A. Gus had a completely horrific, unnatural death, and Betty experienced the worst fear of any astronaut's wife. I had an opportunity to meet her in Houston, and it was a huge honor. It's very obvious to this day that she's still devoted to him.
Q. As an actress married to a baseball player, is it difficult to maintain a normal lifestyle?
A. We both have very unique jobs that provide some incredible adventures. He genuinely loves what he does, and he's grateful to be able to do it. We have a unique understanding what it's like to have high-pressure jobs. It's intense at times, but we love our life.