WAPAKONETA — Simone Thomas, wife of retired astronaut Don Thomas, detailed the development of the Astronaut Wives Club and her family’s relationship with Neil Armstrong Monday.
Thomas’ presentation, “An Astronaut Wife’s Life,” was presented by the Auglaize County Library to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. She spoke at noon at the Rotary Club meeting and again at 7:30 p.m. at the Wapakoneta library.
Thomas discussed the history of the Astronaut Wives Club and how their lives were detailed by the media because it was the closest the public could come to the astronauts.
“I’m glad I didn’t have to endure that,” she said. “It’s nearly a 50/50 chance for your spouse to come back, and they are capturing that extremely stressful moment.”
Following the Challenger explosion in 1986, NASA drastically changed the media access to the spouses after family reactions were captured.
“NASA didn’t really deal with the spouses, and then Challenger happened, and NASA went to completely controlling the spouses,” she said. “After the first launch, I felt a little bit like I was being shepherded.”
The Astronaut Wives Club has now morphed into the Astronaut Spouse Group, and is recognized as a NASA institute. The spouses are now housed in a separate area away from the media during launches, Thomas shared.
“In Don’s first mission, it was more like NASA would tell me where I have to be, and now it’s more teamwork,” Thomas said. “For the launch, every spouse deals with it differently, but in principal, right before launch, it’s stressful.
“It’s to some extent as safe as you can be, but there’s still a chance, and that chance is still in the back of your head. To have that support and ability to ask for help, it really helps a lot.”
The first time the Thomases met Neil Armstrong was the day before launch of the STS-83 in 1997. Don, a Cleveland native, had written Armstrong a personal letter inviting him to the launch, to which Armstrong responded.
“I’ve met Neil Armstrong a couple of times, and I found him very fascinating,” Simone said. “He’s a worldwide celebrity and he’s completely down to earth and the nicest person.
“It’s not just what he did, but his personality,” she added. “With all of that admiration and respect you have, of course, when Wapakoneta calls, you come.”
Reach Tara Jones at 567-242-0511.