Celebrating my mom today. She would have been 85 years old. She died in 2016, before I had the idea for my current research project (Moonshot Astronaut Families). I spent many hours going through her papers after she died, and I discovered new, and sometimes surprising, insights into her life during the early astronaut days. This was the beginning of my path to this project.
Today, I share two photos and a quote that represent her experiences in the Moonshot era – and what an incredible era! She was part of the birth of an organization (NASA) and an occupation (Astronaut). She was part of a Presidential goal (Moonshot) accomplished in an extraordinarily short time.
“I think the question that I’m asked the most is: what was it like to have your husband fly in space or go to the moon, and what did you do all that time or what did you think about? And I have to admit, it’s the hardest question to answer, it’s not a one- or two-word answer. It’s something that I guess I really have to go all the way back to when I first met my husband and he was a pilot and I think probably a lot of women would — or young girls would — have thought, ‘Oh gee, I don’t know whether I’d want my husband flying airplanes.’ Well, I was very fortunate. My father was a pilot, so this never bothered me. Flying airplanes was something I had grown up with, and I really never stopped to think about it. So, marrying a pilot was a very natural thing. Now, if someone had told me that 13 years later he was going to go to the moon, I might have thought twice….”Anne Lurton Scott, September 27, 1972. Speech given at “A Luncheon in honor of Mrs. David Scott” for the wives of the doctors attending the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology Convention in Dallas, TX. (The audiotape of the speech is in the Anne Lurton Scott Papers at Emory’s ROSE Manuscript and Rare Book Library.)
Lurton Scott at home in Nassau Bay, TX. March 1966.
My family moved to Nassau Bay in January 1964, when my father began his work as part of NASA Astronaut Group 3. My mother was 25 years old.
This photo was taken in March 1966 (when she was 27), just prior to the launch of Gemini 8, which would be my father’s first space mission, flying as copilot to Neil Armstrong.
The photo was part of a series taken by Ralph Morse, renowned for his work for LIFE Magazine. It was meant to appear in a LIFE article on Gemini 8, but the roll of film didn’t make it onto the plane in time to get back to New York for deadline. Mr. Morse printed copies of the photos for my mother, and a LIFE editor sent them to her.
I love the image – with its mix of typical (feminine dress and pose) and atypical (direct gaze at the camera, instructional stance with the spacecraft models) elements. My mom loved learning, and always wanted to understand my father’s work. My father was good at explaining complex concepts in layperson’s terms. I imagine my father brought these models and manuals home to explain the mission to my mother. Later, during my father’s preparation for Apollo 15, which involved a lot of geology training, my mother took a geology class at the University of Houston, so that she could better understand the mission.
I also love the historical period elements of the photo. The clothing, the hairstyle, the décor, even the black and white mode, feel more akin to the late 1950s and early 1960s, rather than to the mid to late 1960s, with the vastly changing social environment in the U.S. The early 1960s were the height of excitement about Kennedy’s Moonshot goal, the establishment of NASA, the first forays into outer space, and the origins of the new kind of pilots who would fly in space: the Astronauts. The astronaut communities around the Manned Space Center in Houston remained insular bubbles of that early era well into the late 60s and early 70s.
Lurton Scott and Doug Scott, 4th of July Party, Nassau Bay, TX. 1972.
I took this photo with my Instamatic camera in July 1972 at the Schweickart’s annual Fourth of July party in their back yard which bordered the bayou. (Rusty Schweickart flew with my father on Apollo 9; the family lived just down the street from us and many other astronaut families.)
My mother was 33 years old. (I was 11 and my brother Doug was 8.)
The second photo was taken just six years after the first, but the visual elements suggest such a greater gap in time – this seems like such a completely different historical era. This photo is definitely 1972: my mom’s dress and hairstyle, the styles of others and the setting, the casual gathering outdoors, the square color Kodak photo. Of course, this is a candid shot, so my mother is more relaxed. She seems more confident. She seems genuinely happy.
By July 1972 my mother had participated in dozens of official tasks for NASA, as the wife of an astronaut who flew on three space missions in six years (Gemini 8 in 1966, Apollo 9 in 1969, and Apollo 15 in 1971). She likely had a lot more confidence than in 1966. She had had so many interactions with the media, with NASA and other Contractor companies, with official dignitaries in the U.S. and abroad. She did all this (unpaid) work, while raising our family and supporting her fellow astronaut wives and families and community. She had experienced such extraordinary events – such an extraordinary life – in the span of six years, eight years since she first arrived in Nassau Bay at the age of 25.
For more about my mom, see the photo tribute I created on Flickr (in place of an obituary):