Tag Archives: Space

Book: The Right Stuff


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.”

Americana: 1969

Neil Armstrong on the moon. Uploaded by theunexplainedmysteries.com.

Neil Armstrong on the moon. Uploaded by theunexplainedmysteries.com.

"By the time we got to Woodstock we were half a million strong." Uploaded by screenhead.com.

"By the time we got to Woodstock we were half a million strong." Uploaded by screenhead.com.

It’s a Great American Things first – a year is recognized. Three events propelled this selection onto the list: The first man walks on the moon, Woodstock is the high point of the youth revolution, and I graduated from high school and started college. Okay, maybe just the first two.

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” were the famous words spoken by Neil Armstrong as he stepped onto the surface of the moon. He and Buzz Aldrin had taken the Eagle landing module down while Apollo 11 crew member Michael Collins continued to orbit above. The date was July 20, 1969, just eight years after President John Kennedy issued the challenge for Americans to reach the moon “before this decade is out.”

Woodstock poster, uploaded by solarnavigator.net.

Woodstock poster, uploaded by solarnavigator.net.

Then, less than a month later, and more than a world away, a crowd estimated at between 400,000 to 500,000 gathered at Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in upstate New York for a long weekend that changed rock and roll history. The event was planned as a profit-making concert, but that plan didn’t exactly work out. Instead, the crowd heard 32 of the era’s best musicians (who invited Sha-Na-Na?), including The Who, Janis Joplin, The Band, Jimi Hendrix, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash. The crowd struggled against inadequate food and sanitation, not to mention rain and mud. But it was a badge of honor for the generation that the festival was peaceful. (Altamont was to come later in the year and end that dream.)

Before we leave 1969, let’s look at some of the other mileposts of the year. Number one song: Sugar Sugar. Academy Award for Best Picture: Midnight Cowboy. Sesame Street debuted. But, then, so did Penthouse. Ted Kennedy proved he needed driving lessons – and a conscience.

Thanks to John (who posts as jmq on the Virgin-Islands-On-Line message board) for giving me the idea for the 100th post. John has helped before, by writing No. 23: Bruce Springsteen. He wins nothing except my gratitude, and that’s enough, isn’t it John? John?

The video: Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock performing “Purple Haze”: