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The Right Stuff



I recently watched the movie the Right Stuff exploring how America and NASA launched their first astronauts into space. I really enjoyed it, I think you can tell it was based on Tom Wolfe's book - its well written on lots of levels.


I enjoyed the recurrent motif of Chuck Yeager who's story of breaking the sound barrier starts the film, but who is then left behind apart from continued reprises as the astronauts take centre stage. He bravely headed out time and time again to push his aircraft to the limit. The adoration and press coverage may have left him behind, but the risks and never ending battle between man, technology and failure at height and speed remained.


I also enjoyed the Shakespearian comedy of the incompetent NASA officials, one too tall, one too short, bumbling around looking for suitable astronaut candidates; and the realistic portrayal of the astronauts themselves, flawed and human with their infidelities and arrogances, but also with their comradeship and their support for their wives bugged by press and politicians. The wives themselves were also a major part of the movie, learning to live, with no support, with the dangers that bureaucrats and male drive put their loved ones in.


And then those dangers. The Mercury missions were casualty free, but that underplays the risks. The board of photos each showing a killed test pilot in Chuck Yeager’s regular watering hole reinforces his words that these people were volunteering for a suicide mission; it was only by luck and hard work that they all survived. And what of the hard work? – “Without the bucks they'd be no Buck Rogers.” The work of probably hundreds of thousands of people all converging on to one person strapped into a tin can at the top of hundreds of tonnes of explosive liquid and gas. Isn't it amazing what human ingenuity can do? The engineers were also given a Shakespearian, comedic role with Teutonic minds that ignored that people need to pee. I think that is a little unfair. I wish to take nothing away from the astronauts, but the people who slaved away, with far less head-line grabbing reward, to get the rockets to actually work were also heroic - allowing us to slip the surly bonds of earth.


We definitely do need reminding that some of humanity's achievements really are awe inspiring. The Right Stuff did it for me. I definitely recommend it - as long as you've got 3+ hours to spare.


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