It was Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff that told me the reason airline pilots all sound the same is because they’re all emulating the West Virginia drawl of test pilot Chuck Yeager. Published in 1979, it was the story of the beginning of the American space program and the Mercury Seven astronauts.
But it was also the story of how NASA was a bunch of weenies because when they picked test pilots to be astronauts, they left out the greatest test pilot of all: Chuck Yeager. And it’s a story that Philip Kaufman stuck with in 1983 when he adapted The Right Stuff into an overly long movie that only an aerospace nerd could love.
The inherent superiority of Chuck Yeager over the Mercury Seven is not a story you will learn in the new Disney+ series The Right Stuff, which starts streaming on October 9. “Based on” Wolfe’s book and produced by National Geographic and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way, this new adaptation wisely chooses to keep things focused on the space race’s first superstars, including Suits’ Patrick J. Adams as John Glenn and Mad Men‘s Aaron Staton as Wally Schirra.
Ditching the high desert and the breaking of the sound barrier allows The Right Stuff to spend a lot more time exploring the lives of the new astronauts as NASA establishes itself and tries to make that whole rocket thing work as well as those darn communists.
Listing image by National Geographic/Greg Page