One night the phone rang during Apollo 13. A lot of the news media were there, because we knew them so well. Everybody had just gotten their plates filled and were sitting around on the floor ready to eat. Tom Stafford got the call, and he said something to Ron. Within five minutes, the entire house was void of all men— very quietly, nothing said, no big to-do. All these women thought, Hmm, something must be wrong. All the guys are gone. So you really didn’t see your husbands again for a couple of days, and then they began calling and saying, “Hey, there’s a problem. We’re all working in the simulators or we’re doing this.” Everybody said, “Oh, okay.” You don’t panic, because that doesn’t do any good. You just say your prayers, you offer your support, and you gather around those people involved. And that’s it. They worked out a new way to get the fellows back.
Did you spend time with the family members involved in the flight?
Everybody gathers around the home. You are together when they step out of the lunar module on the surface. You’re together during launch, and you’re together during splashdown. NASA connected a squawk box in our home, so we could listen to all the air-to-ground communications.
How did your neighbors deal with the publicity you received with Ron being an astronaut?
During Apollo 14, when Ron was on backup, the day came when he was supposed to leave for quarantine. The night before, we’d taken the children to the Astrodome to cart races or big-truck races or something. We got home, and there was this huge billboard electric sign in our front yard that was all lit up that said, “Jan’s Motel.” Of course, we just nearly died. We knew who had done it. We got in the house, and the bed was short-sheeted. There was an ice bucket there with champagne. We finally got the kids to bed, and Ron and I got in bed. All of a sudden, there are voices in our bedroom. We finally found a speaker up in the attic after we pulled down the attic steps and got full of insulation. The neighbors were all out in the back field behind the house, hysterically laughing.
By the time Ron flew on Apollo 17, there had been a threat by the Black September group that had wreaked havoc with the Olympics over in Germany [in 1972]. They had made a threat on the families of the Apollo 17 crew. We had security out in front of our house 24 hours a day. We didn’t know about this until the day before they left.
Did you play practical jokes on your neighbors?
One of them, we thought they were too slow getting these dead bushes out of their front yard, and so we spray-painted them green. Their kids got up the next day and thought they’d actually come to life. Firecrackers got set off in your doorway when you had a birthday. One time we put the motor out of a car in one of the neighbors’ front yard.
The homebuilder’s office was in the lot at the corner of our cul-de-sac. He had torn down the office, so there was this big earth-moving machine out there. You get a bunch of engineers, and they’ve got to go down there and check this out. Then pretty soon, my Ron’s up on that thing, and the next thing you know it’s running. Of course, the kids are beside themselves with excitement. All of a sudden there’s an El Lago police car sitting at the corner. Pretty soon there’s another police car. Of course, this excites the children all the more. All these engineers climbing all over this thing trying to figure out how to turn it off. They finally had to literally cut the fuel line. They were a bit embarrassed when they had to go apologize to the builder on Monday. Of course, Ron had to leave town Monday, so I went over with the fellows to apologize. I still get embarrassed about this, but nothing embarrassed Ron.
What impact did the women’s movement have on your life while you were in Clear Lake?
The women’s movement has never had an impact on my life. I was liberated the day I was born by my loving parents and my sister, and then by my husband. I never had to ask permission. I was always appreciated. I was always thanked.
You’ve evoked a lot of memories. It was a very wonderful family experience being down there and being a part of the program. I wish Ron were still here, because he loved talking about it. I look at it now, reaching 70 years old. We came down there as mere children, who had our own children, and were given this tremendous opportunity to contribute.