movies in space

Nine Tips for Becoming the Perfect Astronaut Movie Wife

Photo: Universal Pictures

The job of the Astronaut Movie Wife is a thankless one. Her husband, who is somehow an extreme nerd and also very handsome, gets to go off into space and become an American hero, while she stays at home with her annoying kids and the other wives she is forced to be friends with regardless of whether they get along, and must go on with her life as if her great love isn’t off on a job that could literally kill him. If you think about it, the Astronaut Move Wife is the real hero!

The most recent (and excellent) addition to the great pantheon of Astronaut Movie Wives is Claire Foy as Janet Armstrong in First Man. So we thought it was time to examine this integral —and pretty well-defined — role, which shows up in literally every space movie, a bit more closely. If, one day, you were to find yourself in the honorable position of an Astronaut Movie Wife, what should you expect, and how can you excel at your job? Below, we present nine tips and tricks of the trade, based on the experiences of our most famous AMW’s from films including Apollo 13, The Right Stuff, and yes, First Man.

Learn how to emit sheer terror from your eyeballs while the rest of your face looks “proud, happy, and thrilled.”
The “proud, happy, thrilled” line is one that Apollo 13’s Marilyn Lovell (Kathleen Quinlan) — who, after four space launches, is an old pro at seeming simultaneously supportive and terrified, both publicly and privately — passes on to newbie Mary Haise (Tracy Reiner), wife of Fred (Bill Paxton), part of Jim Lovell’s (Tom Hanks) crew on the ill-fated Apollo 13. If there is a secret handbook for the Astronaut Wives’ Club (not the book or the TV show based on the book, but the fake underground club I invented in my mind), I hope it is called Proud, Happy, Thrilled. A good Astronaut Movie Wife knows that her main duty is to be unreservedly supportive of her husband’s job and dreams, even though they will probably kill him. Actually, it seems like her main duty is to bring a casserole whenever she visits someone at their house, but the second thing is the support.

One of the greatest examples of this ability to seem supportive while your eyes are screaming “please, don’t die on me” comes from Lovell when she first learns that Jim’s been bumped up to the Apollo 13 crew. Is she happy that her husband will finally walk on the moon? Sure! Do we witness the fear of what this means and the fact that he has much less time to prepare for his mission wash over her face as she tries to remain calm? You bet! But the ability comes with the territory. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if they cast Claire Foy in an Astronaut Movie Wife role simply because her eyes are so large and expressive. She deploys this tactic of “stuff down your true emotions until they only come across through your eyes” for most of First Man, until she just can’t anymore, and lets Neil (Ryan Gosling) feel the brunt of it even before he leaves for Apollo 11. She was welcomed to the AMW Club with open arms, obviously.

Don’t worry about landscaping, all of your flowers are likely to be trampled by nosy reporters, anyway.
Oh, Astronaut Movie Wife, going into this thing, you may think that the toughest obstacle you’ll face is waiting to know whether your husband will make it safely back to Earth — but it won’t be. The toughest obstacle you’ll have to face is the hordes of awful reporters setting up shop on your lawn so they can track your every move while your husband is off the planet. It doesn’t take long for Marilyn Lovell to realize the only reason the reporters are out there making a mess of her garden is because her husband might die, so she pays them no mind.

You know who’s surprisingly great with them? Janet Armstrong. She watches her husband land on the moon, finally breathes again, and then walks outside to give the press a little smile and a supportive statement before hopping into her car and getting the hell out of there. That’s a boss Astronaut Movie Wife move if I’ve ever seen one. But the MVP award has to go to Betty Grissom (Veronica Cartwright) in The Right Stuff. After learning that her husband Gus’s (Fred Ward) mission is under investigation and she will not be getting a ticker tape parade or meeting Jackie O. — things she was promised by those dicks at NASA — she has mere seconds to wipe away the angry tears she’s been unloading on her husband because the press is literally climbing onto their porch. But she does it because she is an OG Astronaut Movie Wife.

Keep your bedroom clean: you will be crying in a corner of it, soon.
Everybody is silently crying alone in their bedrooms! Marilyn Lovell retreats to the floor of her bedroom when Apollo 13 goes into its radio blackout zone while orbiting the moon. Betty Haise, bless her, so pregnant, can’t stand to watch news reporters talk about the fate of her husband, Fred, so she waits on her bed until re-entry. Janet Armstrong has to quietly and calmly retreat to her bedroom after watching the Apollo 10 launch with Neil because she needs to be alone to fully process the fact that her husband is next.

It makes sense: Astronaut Movie Wives must emote strength and support at all times, so they need secluded places in which to be Human People. As an AMW, you’re definitely going to have terrible memories of being in your bedroom no matter what; might as well make sure one of them isn’t, “All the dirty laundry was just piled on the floor. Not one thing was folded!”

Be prepared to be a great hostess on one of the most nerve-wracking days of your life.
Honestly, could you imagine anything more stressful than having to think about putting out clean guest towels and making sure there’s enough silverware for everyone while also waiting to find out if your husband lives or dies on national television with all of your family and friends in the room? Maybe actually going into space. Maybe. But this launch party tradition is truly an awful one. At least the wives of the Mercury 7 astronauts in The Right Stuff had a whole team of AMWs to rely on — the party may be at your house, but they’ll take care of the silverware and casseroles. The rest of the AMWs were hosts all on their own. No wonder so many of these wives are crying alone in their bedrooms!

Perfect blowing a kiss to your husband, for you will learn the horrors of quarantine.
Fun fact: Quarantine can occur both before and after a space mission. So Marilyn Lovell can’t even hug her husband goodbye, she has to stand at a designated distance from him on the evening before the launch while they trade flirty banter and she offers him one small gesture of a kiss from way over yonder. Janet finally gets her peepers on Neil after he makes history (and after a rather tense goodbye), but they are still separated by glass. She reaches out to make the small, loving gesture. Prior to your time as an AMW, you should really work on giving a kiss via your hand, because although the gesture seems silly and insignificant, you have to convey a whole lot of subtext in one move.

Figure out how to deal with dumb kid stuff while also contemplating your husband’s mortality and a life without him because, trust, your children will choose this time to be at their most annoying.
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that Astronaut Movie Kids are the Worst. Okay, except for the littlest Lovell in Apollo 13, who, when he finds out something is wrong with his dad’s mission asks, “Was it the door?” because he is haunted by the Apollo 1 tragedy (and I weep). But his older sister? Crying about the Beatles breaking up when her dad is literally about to strap himself to a tin can and be hurled into space? I cannot. Or fucking Movie Mark Armstrong, who steals the NASA radio during Neil’s harrowing Gemini 8 mission? Good day, sir! But this is why I’m not an Astronaut Movie Wife. Those ladies are able to compartmentalize everything they’re going through in order to properly discipline their children. It truly is a wonder to behold.

Prep your “I’m staring at my husband while my husband stares at the moon” face.
Listen, it happens to every Astronaut Movie Wife at some point in her tenure: You will find your husband staring up at the moon and you will have to watch him do it. Sometimes he’s a Sad Person Thinking About Lives We Lost while looking at the moon, like Neil Armstrong in First Man. Sometimes he’s a Curious and Excited Person Ready to Achieve Lifelong Dreams like Jim Lovell in Apollo 13. Regardless, just find a comfortable place — Janet Armstrong chose the kitchen window, Marilyn Lovell, doing it right, goes for a chaise longue — and dig in. Who knows how long he’ll be staring at that thing! He has a lot on his mind! HE IS GOING TO THE MOON.

Don’t you dare give a damn about NASA protocol.
There’s precedent to suggest that there comes a time for all Astronaut Movie Wives when she must stand up to a Powerful Man or a Group of Powerful Men because THAT’S HER HUSBAND, UP THERE. Annie Glenn’s (Mary Jo Deschanel) situation in The Right Stuff starts us off right at the top — she has to inform Vice President Lyndon Johnson that no, he cannot show up at her house to console her in front of cameras because John’s orbit flight is cancelled. She doesn’t care that he runs the U.S. Space Program, she has a stutter that makes her uncomfortable and won’t allow him to railroad her decision. Marilyn Lovell could also not care any less about “NASA bullshit” when they start getting cagey about the status of Apollo 13 early on in its doomed flight. But really, the Astronaut Movie Wife who gives it to NASA the best is Janet Armstrong. When they turn off her radio box, she goes down to NASA and personally yells at a whole group of men who are not providing all the information she needs — nay, deserves! She doesn’t give a damn about security protocols, you dummies. She’s an Astronaut Movie Wife. Oh man, there aren’t many perks to the job, but this is definitely at the top of the list.

If NASA inexplicably loses contact with your husband for two minutes, make sure you investigate what happened up there before having sex with him.
Otherwise, you’ll end up like Jill Armacost (Charlize Theron) in The Astronaut’s Wife and give birth to demon alien spawn. I mean, I guess that’s self-explanatory, but I figured it should be noted.

Nine Tips for Becoming the Perfect Astronaut Movie Wife