The Right Stuff – the book by Tom Wolfe, the 1983 movie and how we got to the moon

Image: Wikipedia

Did you know that we are approaching the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing? On July 20, 1969, the United States Apollo 11 was the first crewed mission to land on the moon. Six hours after the lunar module landed, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first men to walk on the moon!

The race to space began over a decade earlier, when the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik 1 satellite in 1957. In response, the United States formed the Mercury Seven, a group of seven pilots who began training to be the first Americans in space. They were Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton. This was the beginning of the new astronaut profession and, between 1961 and 1963, all seven flew into space. All this training led to the historic moon landing in 1969.

Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff is about this group and the test pilots that came before them, including Chuck Yeager, the first pilot to break the sound barrier. Wolfe’s critically-praised book was published in 1974 and became the Academy Award-winning film in 1983.

I recently watched the movie, starring Sam Shepard, Barbara Hershey, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid and even a very young Jeff Goldblum. I enjoyed the movie very much because, even though I knew about the Space Race, I didn’t see the movie back in 1983 and didn’t know much about the Mercury Seven. What is the most impressive is the tremendous risk these men were willing to take to venture into the unknown. They suffered setbacks and failure and Gus Grissom died in a pre-launch test. But the public’s adulation of these men marked the beginning of America’s fascination with space exploration.

The Mercury Seven/Image: Wikipedia

At three hours, it’s a longer film than most, and I had to split it into two nights, but I’d recommend it. Seeing the cast as young actors was also fun!

Have you read The Right Stuff or watched the movie? Maybe you’re too young, but if you’re around my age, you will remember the lunar landing!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

12 thoughts on “The Right Stuff – the book by Tom Wolfe, the 1983 movie and how we got to the moon

    1. Hi Jill – yes I was a little older than you but I didn’t know what it all meant. I do remember watching on TV with my family. I liked the movie, too, but it took me a long time to get to it!

  1. Fascinating, Barbara. I haven’t seen the movie or read the book but it sounds like interesting reading. I had to do some research into the training of astronauts for some writing I did recently. I was very impressed. There is also a NASA exhibition at my local museum at the moment and it just completely boggled my mind seeing the tiny compartments and flimsy-looking structures these men travelled in, to space. It’s awe-inspiring.

    1. That’s cool, Norah. Yes, I saw your post about the moon landing – I’m going to go back and read it soon. I can’t believe how much risk these astronauts took and the early capsules don’t look nearly sturdy enough. The thinking the scientists had to do to even get a rocket into space. I think I would have been terrified to be in orbit, afraid that I’d never get out of it. Thanks for stopping by!

      1. I agree, Barbara. There’s so much to wonder about. So many questions. So many impossibilities – for me anyway. 🙂

  2. I read the book and watched the movie! I loved the book at the time (not sure if I’d still be a fan of Tom Wolfe’s writing) — I’m so fascinated by the space program and the bravery of the people involved. I remember the moon landing, vaguely (I was 6 years old at the time) — I remember everyone gathering around the TV, although I’m sure I had no appreciation for the significance.

    1. Hi Lisa, yes I barely remember the moon landing. I was 9, so just a few years older than you (I’m ancient!) I haven’t read The Right Stuff, but I did read Bonfire of the Vanities by Wolfe which I thought was fantastic, though the movie was a flop. I definitely had no idea about the significance of the moon landing though. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Barbara, I believe I’m older than most of your commenters. I was 13 when the moon landing occurred. Over time, I’ve watched video of the landing replayed, saw the movie, and have been catching what coverage there has been for the anniversary for this incredible piece of American history. But I haven’t read the book. Thanks for sharing this amazing piece of history.

    1. Hi Sherrey – thanks for sharing your memories – I was 9 and remember, but I don’t think I understood how historic it was. Thinking about it now makes me realize the magnitude of the risks the new astronauts took. Thanks for visiting!

  4. As I was space mad when younger I read both the book and loved the film. I always reckon I should have been born earlier so I could have experienced these amazing events live! The courage of the men involved was incredible … tenacious to the last! From your review here this is a film I can’t wait to see again and of course, will be commenting how young they all look! ❤️😀

    1. Yes, these actors were all so young compared to now. I recently watched Bloodline with Sam Shepard. I don’t think I’d ever seen him as a younger man – he was very good in both! Thanks for reading and commenting, Annika. Hope you’re having a good summer!

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