Lily Koppel's The Astronaut Wives Club offers a fascinating peek into the lives of the extraordinary women married to America's first astronauts. Over the years, the Astrowives formed a close-knit community, celebrating, encouraging, helping and comforting each other, ultimately creating dear friendships that are still going strong today. We asked Koppel some questions about her experience of writing the book and what it was like hanging out with America's first reality stars.

What sparked the idea for the book?

I saw a Life magazine photo of the wives in their skyrocketing beehives, outfitted in their swirling candy-colored Pucci minidresses, and turned to my husband, who is also a writer—and said, “Has a book ever been written about the wives?” I’ve always loved The Right Stuff and Apollo 13, and of course Mad Men, but I never realized how much I wanted to know more about these women until I saw that vintage picture. It was just the tip of the iceberg. It was an interest in the personalities, especially the women. When I found out that they actually have a Club—and that they raised their families in the Houston “space burbs” near NASA’s operations, in a community known as “Togethersville”—the whole thing was just amazing! I knew I had to write the book and tell their story. The emotional side of the space race.

How many of the wives did you interview? Were there any Astrowives who declined to participate?

I started by visiting the wives across the country, unlocking the secrets of this very exclusive club of women behind the astronauts with the “right stuff.” I let their stories, missions and characters guide me in an organic way, focusing on the wives who had the most interesting—and at times difficult—tales. I was lucky that the women were so forthcoming with me. Now in their 70s, they finally felt it was time to come clean. They told me about their friendships with Jackie Kennedy. Joan Aldrin, Buzz’s wife, gave me her diary to explore, which she kept on the Apollo 11 “Giant Step” world tour as her husband’s life was spiraling out of control. Finally, I sat down at my MacBook and started to write, which all in all took about three years. Although it is serious history, I always wanted it to read like a page-turner.

I interviewed more than 30 women, individually and together in groups. They were very encouraging of one another and felt this was the right time to participate in this book. A few I was not able to meet, but with stars like platinum-blonde Rene Carpenter (whom JFK made clear was his favorite), Betty Grissom and Marilyn Lovell (whom people are already familiar with from Apollo 13) all opening up their lives and homes to me, sharing their stories and memories (photo albums, scrapbooks—the Pinterest of the 1960s—and in the case of Betty Grissom, her vintage designer wardrobe purchased mostly from Neiman Marcus in the 1960s, including a pair of fur hot pants), I had more than enough material to work with.

At the height of their fame, the astronauts and their families were offered tons of freebies. What was one of the most wacky, outrageous things/services they were given? Did they ever turn anything down, for whatever reason? Did you get the sense that cash was ever in short supply for them?