Tom Wolfe found out that Navy pilots had a 23 percent chance of dying in accidents. What made them so eager to take the risks, especially the risk of space flight? They have The Right Stuff. Uploaded by nasa.gov.
Every now and again you find an author whose work is both wonderfully entertaining and extraordinarily well written. That was my experience when I found The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. I wasn’t breathlessly waiting for someone to write a book about America’s early space program, so I didn’t rush to read this one. But when I did, I was a Tom Wolfe fan for life.
Uploaded by evalu8.org.
The Right Stuff details the exploits of test pilot Chuck Yeager as he endeavored to break speed and altitude records, then transitions to NASA’s Mercury program. The film adapted from this book was good, but Wolfe’s book is so much better. (As is the case for virtually every movie made from a book.) Wolfe found that Navy pilots had a 23 percent likelihood of dying in an accident. So why were they so eager to become pilots in the first place? Because they had something special inside them — “the right stuff.”
Here’s Wolfe’s explanation of how he came to write The Right Stuff: “This book grew out of some ordinary curiosity. What is it, I wondered, that makes a man willing to sit up on top of an enormous Roman candle, such as a Redstone, Atlas, Titan, or Saturn rocket, and wait for someone to light the fuse? I decided on the simplest approach possible. I would ask a few astronauts and find out.”
The suborbital flight lasted only 15 1/2 minutes, but lifted American morale and made Alan Shepard a national hero. Uploaded by wikimedia.org.
His name was Alan Shepard, and he was the second man – and first American – into space. His flight took place on May 5, 1961.
The second man, because the USSR had sent up Yuri Gagarin less than a month earlier. The space race wasn’t a matter of dueling technologies, but of competing ideologies. For America, the challenge to beat the Russians into space paralleled the struggle to achieve political superiority over Communism.
Shepard safely completed his 15½ minute flight and became an instant hero. He had sat in a nose cone on top of a Redstone rocket and been exploded into the atmosphere. He received accolades, parades, and met President Kennedy. His successful mission motivated the President to appear before a joint session of Congress just a few weeks later and challenge the country to send a man to the moon “before this decade is out.”
Shepard went on to become the fifth man to walk on the moon. He’s the one who took the famous golf shot. By the way, when asked what he was thinking while sitting in the capsule waiting to be launched into space, he replied, “The fact that every part of this ship was built by the low bidder.”
The Hubble Space Telescope took the photograph of this nebula about 5500 light years away. That's either a heck of a big bang, or the creation of one powerful God. Uploaded to Flickr by zen724.
Remember all the hoopla back in April, 1990 when the Hubble Space Telescope was launched from the space shuttle? Yeah, I don’t either. Unless you’re a space nerd (and I mean that with more respect than it may appear), you didn’t even notice.
But the pictures the Hubble has taken are nothing short of remarkable. Whether you believe the universe began by creation or a big bang, there’s no denying the incredible size of our universe, as verified by the HST’s images. Consider that a light year is about 5.8 trillion miles. Now consider that the HST has shown images that are 10-15 billion light years away. That’s either one incredible bang – or one amazingly powerful God.
Nebula NGC 6302 with its butterfly wings of 36,000-degree gas. Uploaded by popsci.com.
Iridescent glory of nearby helix nebula. Uploaded by hubblesite.org.
The Spirograph nebula. Uploaded by hubblesitedotorg
The Cat's Eye Nebula: Dying star creates fantasy-like sculpture of gas and dust. Uploaded by hubblesite.org.
Copyright 2009-2011, Robin G. Chalkley. All material on these pages, and the listing of items as Great American Things, is copyrighted. The exceptions are the photographs and videos, which remain the property of their respective owners.
Header photo used courtesy of Flickr photographer too melo.