I first hear about Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff when I read Scott Kelly’s biography, Endurance. Kelly had said it was what inspired him to become an astronaut, so I was interested in reading it.
In a laid back style, Wolfe looks back on the beginnings of the space program and NASA and it’s first astronauts.
Before the space race, the highest achievement for men wanting to prove their mettle, their cool, and their possession of “the right stuff” was to work their way up to test pilot. When the opportunity for space flight came up, there was a choice to make: keep climbing up through the rest pilot ranks, or stake a career on a new venture. Many people saw space flight as little more than science experiments, considering the Mercury flights were not controlled by their “pilots.”
In the end, as we all know, the astronauts came out on top, not only in public opinion, but also finally in winning pilot controls for their space craft.
Wolfe’s style of writing is conversational and a little sarcastic. It reads just like how someone would tell it to you, down to the snippy little asides and comments. It’s an open, inside look at the early years of the space program, and how it went from thought to reality.
While not quite what I was expecting when I started in (I expected a little more of a biography, not a sassy history), I enjoyed it immensely, and I can fully understand how it would inspire someone to pursue a career as an astronaut. All in all, it was a fun read, and a good place to start if you’re interested in the history of NASA and the space program.