As I watched and reviewed Astronauts Wives Club I began looking around online to see what others thought of the show. I came across an online forum dedicated to the show in the forum was a post on the real history behind NASA and the one book/movie recommended over and over was The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe.
This book actually starts by telling the story of Chuck Yeager the man who first broke the sound barrier. It also gives a great explanation of what life was like for test pilots. You begin to really understand how they feel and why, this is wonderful when reading books written by the astronauts themselves as so many of them were test pilots. As I read their books I could read the bravado and almost false humility between the lines. They’re not bragging so much when they talk about their successes. They are in many ways humble guys that were just doing their job but in each new book I read you get a sense of them also wanting to be recognized for those things they did, even if those things were “no big deal.” I read a few astronaut memoirs last summer and they came across at that point as almost arrogant, but after reading TRS it made sense.
Wolfe takes us through the selection process the astronaut’s went through including some horrific medical testing that to the men seemed to be done for no real reason. In all honesty the doctors just had no idea what they should be looking for as they had no idea what the men would be experiencing so they just ran every test imaginable. We’re introduced to the Mercury Seven and get to know them and see how they related to one another. They may not have always agreed with one another, may even have seriously disliked some things about each other, and been in competition to get space flights but when it came down to it they stuck together. They were the space musketeers.
The movie is a great adaptation of the book. The actor choices are wonderful. Be warned it is a LONG movie, over three hours but to cover this subject matter well it needs to be and honestly the time passes before you know, always the mark of a good movie.
My one complaint with The Right Stuff, book and movie, is the treatment of astronaut Gus Grissom who flew Mercury, Gemini, and then died in the launch pad fire in the Apollo 1 capsule. His Mercury capsule sank to the ocean and was lost for decades, it has since been recovered. Gus is characterized as panicking, blowing his hatch early, and in test pilot parlance “screwing the pooch.” The problem with this is NASA cleared Grissom, and then decades after the incident when the book and movie were released Grissom’s reputation was tarnished. This just irritates the hell out of me! Still even with this I’d recommend reading the book and seeing the movie but keep in mind the perspective it was written from and make sure to do additional reading and watching.