In 1979, Tom Wolfe published a classic book detailing the lives of test pilots who powered the space program. In 1983, The Right Stuff was made for the silver screen.
See this space classic as part of our Space on Screen series Feb. 22. Tickets are $8 for the general public and $5 for members. Get your ticket here!
What did it take to be one of NASA’s first astronauts? Following the personal and professional lives of the Mercury astronauts, and chronicling the first 15 years of America’s space program, “The Right Stuff” takes viewers on a journey to experience the frustrations and achievements of NASA and its A-team of original astronauts. Adapted from the nonfiction novel written by author Tom Wolfe, the film portrays the human side of spaceflight and what seven men and their families sacrificed for America to succeed.
Starring Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, Fred Ward and many others, The Right Stuff covers some 15 years and recounts the formation of America’s space program, concentrating on the original Mercury astronauts. The film relates the dangers and frustrations facing the astronauts, the various personal crises involving their families, and the schism between their squeaky-clean public image and their sometimes raunchy, earthbound shenanigans.
With a run time of 3 hours, 13 minutes, it’s a hefty piece of cinema, but it also covers a lot of ground. Beginning with Chuck Yeager (Shepard) breaking the sound barrier, it follows the Mercury 7 astronauts through their early trials and tribulations and ends after Gordon Coopers successful Faith 7 mission, which completed Project Mercury.
The film has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 98 percent from critics and 90 percent from audiences while Metacritic gave it a 91. It won four Oscars in 1984, including Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing and Best Music, Original Score. It was nominated for four other Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Shepard), Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction.
Interestingly, the picture didn’t made its budget back. At an estimated $27 million, it was one of the more expensive movies of 1983, but finished 33rd on the highest grossing movies of the year when it made $21 million.