Commentary The Right Stuff is a triumphant tale of American heroism in air and in space. Based on the 1979 biographical novel by Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff concerns the seven Mercury astronauts as well as the early test pilots, some of whom were picked for the space program as well as some of whom refused to participate, most notably Chuck Yeager, the first person to break the sound barrier in 1947. The film portrays the constant hardships faced by the pilots and astronauts as well as their wives. It also portrays the spirit of American pride in the space race, to be first in space.
Plot Summary The Right Stuff chronicles the early days of the space program as well as the extremely dangerous test flights of supersonic aircraft. Aviation feats shown in the movie include the following:
On Oct. 14, 1947, Chuck Yeager's breaks the sound barrier aboard the Bell X-1, achieving Mach 1.06.
On Dec. 12, 1953, Ridley and Yeager achieve Mach 2.3 aboard the X-1A, breaking Scott Crossfield's previous speed record of Mach 2.
On Dec. 10, 1963, Yeagar attempts to beat the Russian altitude record aboard the NF-104A, but misses the mark and nearly dies as the plane loses control. He manages to jettison himself on time, catching fire in the process.
Milestones shown in the Mercury space program include the following:
On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space.
On July 21, 1961, Gus Grissom becomes the second American in space. The hatch of his capsule blew after re-entry, he fell out and nearly drowned.
On Feb. 20, 1962, John Glenn completed three orbits about the Earth. Upon reentry, the heat shield became loose with only the retro package holding it in place. Luckily it held on all the way down. Glenn was given a huge ticker-tape parade in New York City after he returned.
On May 15, 1963, Gordo Cooper completed 22 orbits, more than any other Mercury astronaut.
Cultural Significance I was very moved by The Right Stuff when I first watched it. The space race began a few years before I was born, so I missed the spirit of the times, though I do remember the excitement regarding the Apollo missions in the '60s and '70s. I felt much of the same excitement while watching The Right Stuff. The movie was released in 1983, during the Reagan administration, when faith in America was on the rise. I'm sure The Right Stuff contributed to this rising faith in America as well as the space program. The movie was also released just two years after the first space shuttle flight and three years before the Challenger disaster, when optimism in space travel was being restored.