Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe

The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe

I'm a huge fan of the movie The Right Stuffbut admit I've never actually read the book before now. As expected, the two have a lot in common, although Wolfe spends a lot more time describing the one-sided antagonism between the astronauts and classic pilots than the film does. A common theme was how the press made it sound like the Mercury astronauts were the first people to ever ride a rocket, but "Yeager had done precisely that more than forty times. Fifteen other pilots had done it also, and they had reached speeds greater than three times the speed of sound and an altitude of 126,000 feet." The jet test pilots believed they belonged at the top of the aircraft food chain, because after all the astronauts were intended to be mere passengers. "There was very little action that an astronaut could take in a Mercury capsule, other than to abort the flight and save his own life. So he was not being trained to fly the capsule. He was being trained to ride in it." The public disagreed, however, and the first group of astronauts were instant heroes long before ever getting near a rocket. "All seven, collectively, emerged in a golden haze as the seven finest pilots and bravest men in the United States. A blazing aura was upon them all." Ironically, Tom Wolfe wrote about the self-aggrandizement of both the pilots and astronauts, but the only picture in the book is of the author and Wolfe's name on the cover is three times as large as the title.

First Sentence:
Within five minutes, or ten minutes, no more than that, three of the others had called her on the telephone to ask her if she had heard that something had happened out there.

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