With humor, great coinage, lots of exclamation points, alliteration and brilliant observational insight about America’s mores, foibles, morals and worries, The Right Stuff captures the American ethos, a country in desperate need of heroes.
Stuffed into space suits, probed, spun, poked and prodded, the pilots complained but complied with the rigors of pre-flight preparation. NASA was flying into the unknown and a military life is based on order. However, being stuffed into the role of a public relations puppet, paraded and adorned as perfect heroes and hunted by the press, this was an unforeseen unwelcome humiliating shock—at first—to the astronauts and their wives. Well, to most of them. But, the Mercury 7 were chosen because they were the perfect specimens of adaptability. The sports cars eventually arrive, carousing “Flying and Drinking and Drinking and Driving” goes unreported and the wives’ smiles masked their frustration as they present the perfect family life, on command. Wolfe’s story endears the reader to appreciate and be in awe of the seven’s “right stuff.”
The book is worth rereading now in our interesting political climate. It offers the reader a chance to reexamine the United States place in the world, a topic that seems to orbit uncontrollably in today’s stellar landscape of politics, technology, journalism, fact and fiction.
The Right Stuff reveals the roll-your-eyes-big-sigh hypocrisy of the press and the bravery of the Mercury 7. The book was the nation’s first behind-the-scenes look at NASA, deftly written, allowing the reader to feelAmerica’s on-edge nerves triggered by the Cold War. Writing took a new direction, retreating from the present culture of anti-hero/victim as portrayed by Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman and returning to the traditional style of clear pro- and antagonist.
The United States was faced with the cold reality that these seven guys were heroes, risking their lives, carrying the hopes of a nation atop a rocket.
If vague memories of a film by the same title come to mind, forget it. None of the surviving seven liked it, particularly the depiction of Gus Grissom. In a 2011 inspiring interview at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum with astronauts John Glenn and Scott Carpenter, the film Apollo 13 is highly praised.
Looking forward to our discussion this week. You can listen live next week on Tuesday at 9:30 on NPR WJCT 89-9 FM or download the podcast.