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ABC launches drama about original astronauts’ wives

Not only did the astronauts known as the Mercury Seven have the right stuff, so did the women who stood by them.

Their stories are told in “The Astronaut Wives Club,” ABC’s drama-series adaptation of Lily Koppel’s best-seller that premieres Thursday. An ensemble cast featuring many familiar television faces – such as Odette Annable (“House”), Bret Harrison (“Reaper”), Yvonne Strahovski (“Chuck”), Desmond Harrington (“Dexter”), JoAnna Garcia Swisher (“Once Upon a Time”) and Wilson Bethel (“Hart of Dixie”) – re-creates the early years of manned space travel when NASA, formed under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, had a forceful proponent in White House successor John F. Kennedy (seen in the series in newsreel footage).

“It has been quite the journey,” said Annable, who follows her brutal on-screen exit from Cinemax’s “Banshee” by playing spaceman Gordon Cooper’s (Harrison) spirited wife Trudy in the show that originally was aimed for last summer. “I was chomping at the bit to portray this woman who was so extraordinary, and when we were finally able to start shooting in October in New Orleans, everything came together the way that it should have. Whatever (production) delays needed to happen happened for a reason.”

If the astronauts’ relationships with their spouses didn’t always run smoothly, it was the same among the women, who were alternately supportive and competitive … the latter spirit shown at the outset of the series in the first encounter between Trudy, who was a licensed pilot, and Alan Shepard’s (Harrington) wife Louise (Dominique McElligott).

“She was a real trailblazer, a modern thinker,” Annable said of her newest alter ego. “Gordon Cooper even mentioned that Trudy may have been a better pilot than he was himself, and that everything he knew, he learned from his wife. She had to go through so many things at that time and had to stand up for herself, even in the way she raised her daughters. She wanted to instill in them the same thoughts she had.” (Annable and her actor husband Dave, who co-stars in the upcoming NBC series “Heartbreaker,” are now expecting their first child.)

Covering the years of the Gemini and Apollo missions as well, “The Astronaut Wives Club” means a reunion for Annable, since she and on-screen “husband” Harrison also worked together in the Fox sitcom “Breaking In” – and “he happens to be one of my best friends in real life,” she noted. “I lived with Bret in New Orleans with his wife and his baby, so it was great to work together on these characters we cared so deeply about. ‘Gordo’ and Trudy had such a fun story to tell. Even though they did end up getting a divorce, they had a great love story.”

Replicating the clothing and hairstyles of the 1960s also was “one of the biggest draws” of “The Astronaut Wives Club” for Annable: “We all worked together with our costume designer, Eric Daman, to create a specific palette for each woman. You certainly see that throughout the show, and there was no mistaking it. Whenever I would try something with Eric, we would know right away whether it was Trudy or not. And he nailed it, he really did. Whenever I would put my costumes on and get my hair and makeup done, I would feel like Trudy Cooper.”