Astronauts: Awesome, but Not Perfect
Tom Wolfe, in his inimitable style, gave us this masterpiece, The Right Stuff, about the original American astronauts: the "Mercury Seven." Take a break from science fiction and look into this book full of science facts as well as the real drama of families living on technology's cutting edge at a turbulent time in history.
For those too young to know, the Cold War was a scary time for Americans. Soviet communism was a clear and present danger and technology became the battlefield between the free world and the communists. Tom Wolfe takes us from the Sputnik event, in which the Russians got an artificial satellite into orbit before the United States did, to Yuri Gargarin's historic "first man in space" flight for the Soviets, to the struggles involved in getting Americans into space.
While Wolfe did his research and had a good understanding of the technical aspects of spece flight, the most compelling portions of this book are the human stories. When I was a child, astronauts were idols--supermen of our time. We wanted to drink Tang because the astronauts did, learn math and science like the astronauts did, go to engineering school like an astronaut, etc. Tom Wolfe explores the more human aspects of the astronauts. Having the right stuff didn't make them perfect, although they were certainly unique among Americans.
Wolfe also portrays the wives of the "Mercury Seven" sympathetically. The stress of marriage to a test pilot was bad enough, but these women endured even more than that. How did they cope with husbands who were celebrities engaged in dangerous experiments while the whole world watched? This book should give all Americans a greater appreciation for those who dare to explore the unknown for the sake of science or national defense.
Learn More about the Space Race
The movie version is long, but worth watching.
Watch the movie, too.
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