The Right Stuff (1983)



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The Right Stuff follows the selection, training, and missions of the Mercury 7 astronauts. It is a fictionalized portrayal that is grounded in some level of real facts. Sam Shepard plays Chuck Yeager, who did not become an astronaut because he lacked a college degree. Chuck Yeager was a pioneer of supersonic flight and is a great addition to the story. Scott Glenn portrays Alan Shepard, Ed Harris portrays John Glenn, Dennis Quaid portrays Gordon Cooper, Fred Ward portrays Gus Grissom. These men are American heroes, and this is a much better film at capturing how groundbreaking the work that early astronauts did than First Man

The Mercury 7 were all cowboys blazing trails across the new frontier of space. They came from military aviation backgrounds and many were test pilots, one of the most dangerous jobs that exist. They all had larger than life personalities, setting them apart from the portrayal of Neil Armstrong in First Man. The film had many consultants that worked on the Mercury program and talked to the living astronauts. Chuck Yeager was heavily involved in the film.

The film takes liberties, as most films do. The head engineer developing the capsule is portrayed as vaguely German, hinting that it may be Warner Von Braun, but he was not involved in capsule development. The largest issue is with Mercury-Redstone-4, the second mission into space piloted by Gus Grissom. In both the film and reality, the capsule sinks after Grissom exits it post splash-down. The film blames Grissom and shows him as panicked and responsible for the capsule opening. An investigation was performed after the real event, and it is commonly believed by the NASA community that the door had a failure that was not the result of any action Grissom took. Fellow Mercury Astronaut Wally Schirra has backed Grissom’s story as he had to force a capsule hatch open intentionally. Grissom’s story turns tragic years later when he died on board Apollo 1 due to a fire and the inability to get a hatch open. Grissom is an American hero and The Right Stuff could use a revision around his story.

In 2019 a documentary about Apollo 11 was released. Seek it out and watch it if you are interested in space. Hidden Figures is another wonderful movie about the space race. The Right Stuff fits in with these movies while adding some additional history on aerospace advancements in the same era. It is a lot of content, but all three films are entertaining. The Right Stuff is a cinematic classic with impressive visuals all created on earth. If you have even a passing interest in space or engineering or cowboys, do yourself a favor and watch The Right Stuff.

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©2019 by Sean Whitehurst