The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

 

Nonfiction

The Right Stuff The Right StuffTom Wolfe; Tandem Library 1999WorldCat

American children are now taught that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon in 1969. They also may remember that Michael Collins was the third astronaut circling the moon while they were on it. How much of the earlier space program information do they know?

Eventually the Russian Yuri Gregarian will have a solid place in history world wide as the first human in space. The early American space program was always playing catch up to the Soviet Union in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. This is the story of the pilots involved in the program, both with the military program and the NASA program.

Wolfe researched the early space project and the men involved in flying the craft. He learned the mental attitude of the pilots that comprise the unspoken “right stuff”, the attributes that create an extraordinary pilot able to fly an extraordinary air machine. The Right Stuff chronicles the early American jet program from the late 1940’s through the Mercury NASA program and the single manned space capsule.

The rocket jet and the rocket capsule are compared and contrasted. The book leaves the feeling (at least it did with me and another woman who read it) that America would have probably done better following through with the rocket jet – one that could be piloted from beginning to end, then land on solid ground. But it was the NASA program that caught the American public’s fancy and fantasies. So the government money went there instead as the rocket jet program quietly died.

I was a young child when men first started orbiting our planet. I remember how popular the astronauts were, watching a simulation of John Glenn’s flight while it was happening, the on ground accident that killed Gus Grissom and Edward White, the first docking procedures, and sitting around a camp lodge when Armstrong made his giant leap. The Right Stuff brought my fuzzy memories into focus, showing all the background I was too young to remember (or not born yet), and the inside stories the American public didn’t know as it was happening. This is wonderful bit of history put together in a very readable, enjoyable book. I highly recommend it.

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