'Astronaut Wives Club': Space History vs. Hollywood in 'Protocol' (Ep. 2)

Second Episode of 'The Astronaut Wives Club'
The second episode of "The Astronaut Wives Club," called "Protocol," revolved around NASA's second and third manned spaceflights. (Image credit: ABC)

"The Astronaut Wives Club," ABC's 10-part docu-drama about the spouses behind America's first spacemen, entered orbit Thursday night (June 25) with its second episode.

Picking up where the premiere "Launch" left off, "Protocol" revolved around the second and third U.S. manned spaceflights from the perspectives of the astronauts' wives.

"As Louise and Alan Shepard bask in the success of his mission, Betty Grissom preps for Gus' launch and turns to Louise for advice," wrote ABC in its synopsis. "And Annie Glenn grapples with her stutter, anticipating that the press will want to hear from her after John's orbit is completed." [Project Mercury: Photos of NASA's 1st Manned Spaceflights]

In July 1961, Grissom launched on the suborbital Mercury-Redstone 4 mission, flying the same trajectory as Shepard's feat from three months earlier. Glenn then lifted off more than half a year later on board Mercury-Atlas 6, making history as the first American to circle the Earth.

The one-hour episode spanned the space race's events of mid-1961 through March 1962, sometimes compressing — and sometimes stretching — the timeline to intertwine the Grissom and Glenn stories.

"Protocol" ended with a cliffhanger, at least for anyone not familiar with the history, as the next astronaut slated to go up, Deke Slayton, revealed to his wife, Marge, that he had been grounded. But was it his fault, or hers?

Post-mission debriefing:Here is a look at where "Protocol" was faithful to space history ("A-OK!") and where it veered off course ("ABORT!").

Azure Parsons as Annie Glenn (left) and JoAnna Garcia Swisher as Betty Grissom in "The Astronaut Wives Club." (Image credit: ABC)

"Private dick."

As the episode opens, Marge (Erin Cummings)gets a surprise visit from Anthony Pantos (P.J. Marshall), a private detective snooping for the tabloid "Confidential," who is threatening to expose her secret first marriage.

ABORT! While it is true Marge was a divorcee, and she and Deke (Kenneth Mitchell) were keeping that quiet to avoid scrutiny, there does not appear to be record of a private eye chasing the story, including in author Lily Koppel's "The Astronaut Wives Club," which served as the basis for the series.

"There is a certain degree of creative license taken in the story, specifically having to do with the wives, and a big part of that is that their lives were not well documented, at least not in a factual way, as much as the men were," Cummings told collectSPACE.

"Adding the window."

Trudy Cooper (portrayed by Odette Annable) mentions the addition of a window to Grissom's capsule. "With that window, he's going to be first man to really see the Earth from space."

A-OK! As dramatized in "The Right Stuff," the large window was added at the astronauts' own request. As Grissom radioed to the ground on July 21, 1961, "It is such a fascinating view out the window, you just can't help but look out that way." He described viewing the panorama that was the Earth's horizon and seeing Cape Canaveral laid out below.

Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who beat Shepard into space, only had a small porthole to look out his Vostok spacecraft. Shepard's situation was similar, though he also had a periscope to extend his view out of the small opening down through his legs.

"Liberty Bell is sinking."

Betty Grissom (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) and the other wives are elated Gus (Joel Johnstone) splashed down safely after his 15-minute spaceflight, but that delight turns to concern when it's reported his capsule is taking on water.

A-OK! Today you can see Liberty Bell 7 on display at the Kansas Cosmosphere, but that is only due to the museum's efforts to find and raise the capsule off the ocean floor 38 years after it was lost.

Soon after landing, the capsule's hatch blew, letting the ocean rush in. Grissom was ultimately rescued, but his capsule, now flooded, was too heavy for the recovery helicopter's lifting capacity and it was cut loose to sink.

Continue reading at collectSPACE for more A-OK! and Abort! reviews from "The Astronaut Wives Club" second episode "Protocol."

Follow collectSPACE.com on Facebookand on Twitter at @collectSPACE. Copyright 2015 collectSPACE.com. All rights reserved.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Robert Z. Pearlman
collectSPACE.com Editor, Space.com Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.