A time of devastation

Within weeks of NASA announcing the names of the six scientist-astronauts, a furore of monumental proportions erupted. In July, Carole Jane Graveline filed for divorce in San Antonio, accusing her husband of "harsh, cruel and tyrannical treatment'' and saying he had an "uncontrollable" temper. While understandably devastating for her husband, it created a massive media headache for NASA, who at that time was desperate to maintain the pristine, clean-cut, all-American image of its astronauts. Surprising as it may now seem, reporters, editors and other media people had cooperated. They meekly complied with this carefully created image of the squeaky-clean,

Duane E. Graveline, MD. Graveline said this NASA portrait was taken only hours after his return to Houston after being dismissed from the astronaut corps. "You can see I look the picture of complete misery,'' he later reflected on the photograph.

untarnished hero, and chose not to report many of the wilder activities and affairs readily ascribed to many of the early astronauts. Now there was mounting confusion. But the newly-selected scientist-astronauts continued as normal with their preparations to go to supersonic flight school at Williams AFB in Arizona in August. Following this, they would undertake their initial astronaut training in the summer of 1966.

The uproar quickly descended like a black cloud upon the Astronaut Office, and Chief Astronaut Deke Slayton was unimpressed. ''The programme didn't need a scandal. A messy divorce meant a quick ticket back to wherever you came from -not because we were trying to enforce morality, which was impossible, anyway, but because it would detract from the job.''15

Fuelled by adverse publicity, the story of an astronaut's wife suing for divorce caused growing concern for the space agency, who could no longer keep a lid on the situation. Faced with this dilemma, NASA director Dr. Robert Gilruth had to make a quick decision, and his verdict was soon despatched to the Astronaut Office for prosecution. The news hit a bewildered Graveline like a blow; he was out - end of story. As Deke Slayton later related, ''Graveline was the first to get it. He was back in the Life Sciences Division so fast he never even made it to the group photo.'' It was also a salutary lesson for the other astronauts, as evinced by Walt Cunningham from the previous group, selected in October 1963: ''That was as dramatic an example to the rest of us as a neck attached to a swinging rope was to horse thieves in the Old West.'' The whole sordid business outraged Graveline's friend and fellow NASA flight surgeon Fred Kelly, and he later wrote of his disgust at the way the whole affair had been handled. Like other insiders at the space agency, he knew that many of the astronauts were far from innocents themselves, and were living perilously close to the marital edge. It was well known that two of the Mercury astronauts, for instance, had only maintained their failed marriages for the sake of keeping up appearances, and to remain part of the space programme:

''Astronauts were supposed to be immune from social and marital ills. They were all fair-haired boys living in vine-covered cottages in perfect harmony. Duane's wife called a press conference to deliver an indictment so devastating that NASA had asked for his resignation. It was more than a request; he was out! Here was a man I considered head and shoulders above all the other scientist-astronaut selectees. He was wasted because his wife had filed for divorce. If this was going to set a precedent, they would have to select more astronauts.''

Looking back, ''Doc'' Graveline can afford to be philosophical and forgiving to an extent, and he says he cannot help but ''deeply envy'' those of his colleagues who realised their dreams of living and working in space. ''I had no problem with NASA's reaction. This was the first publicised divorce of one of their shining knights. Their reaction was entirely reasonable and even predictable. What else could they do? With respect to Dr. Gilruth, it was his decision that day, in his office at NASA. I bear him no grudge. My divorce publicity was anything but appropriate for a newly-appointed astronaut. He did what he had to do at that time. I have to admit that when the publicity came out I felt like someone who had just received a lethal dose of radiation -I knew I was dead but was just not sure of when it would happen. Five months after the ruinous publicity, and well into the flight-training programme, I resigned from NASA officially 'for personal reasons' and took up life again with my family. My resignation was the hardest decision of my life.''

''It was a reconciliation doomed to failure, for every time an Apollo mission occurred I was pulled more deeply into self-doubt and troubled thoughts. A year passed and finally, like Thoreau, I moved alone into my little cabin in the woods of northern Vermont and gradually regained my footing.''

The divorce went ahead, but it was a muted affair after the early, scandalous publicity that had ruined his career as a scientist-astronaut. He will not speak publicly of Carole's motivation except to add that she later admitted her timing could have been better. ''I consider that a masterpiece of understatement,'' was his final comment on the matter.

With a return to civilian life, Duane Graveline once again began to practice medicine as a family doctor in Burlington, Vermont. During this time he also served as a flight surgeon for the Vermont Army National Guard.

Prior to the first Space Shuttle flight in 1981, Dr. Fred Kelly invited his friend to make a temporary return to NASA as Director of Medical Operations. Happy to be involved, he took a six-month leave of absence from his family practice to assist Kelly on the first four Shuttle missions. ''Otherwise my only NASA contact has been as a regular participant in the Longitudinal Study of Astronaut Health, getting my annual physical check-up at Johnson Space Center.''

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