SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS FOR THE RIGHT STUFF
Notes on Accuracy
The movie shows the wives of the astronauts talking about Jacqueline Kennedy. We are not sure of the accuracy of this report, however, during the early 1960s, the First Lady became a role model for many American women, particularly young women.
Almost everything in this film is accurate, as reported in the book on which it is based. This includes: the culture of the fighter jock who had "the right stuff;" the astronauts' fears of being "spam in a can" and that their role as astronauts would tarnish the fighter jock image that they desired; the struggle between the astronauts and the engineers (many of whom were imports from Nazi Germany) over: (i) whether the astronauts would be passengers or pilots during the space flights; (ii) whether the vehicle would be called a capsule or a spaceship; (iii) to what extent the astronauts would be able to control the spaceship; (iv) whether the spaceship would have a window, etc.; the character study of Yeager and his impact on pilots all over the country; the extremely high death rates suffered by test pilots; the psychological effects on the wives of test pilots caused by the risks to their husbands; the hangout at Edwards Air Force Base; the incident in which Yeager injured himself and could not shut the door of his test airplane without the assistance of a broom handle; the transfer of "the right stuff" from the test pilots at Edwards Air Force Base to the astronauts; the hysteria in the U.S. over the Soviet Union's ability to put satellites and men into space; the adoration of the astronauts by the American public and politicians; the incident when Annie Glenn refused to see Vice-President Johnson and was supported by her husband (although it was only the threat of support from the other astronauts, not anything that they had to do, that made the NASA brass back down); the tests at the clinic, including the electrode in the thumb muscle, the incident with the breath test, and the barium enema given two floors away from the bathroom requiring an embarrassing trip in a public elevator; the request for a semen sample (though not the bathroom incident); the disagreement among the astronauts about how they should conduct their personal lives; the results of the individual flights including the fact that the astronauts used the manual controls that they insisted upon to save their lives on several occasions.
Additional Discussion Questions:
Continued from the Learning Guide...
5. At the end of the movie when Gordo Cooper is asked "Who was the best pilot you ever saw?", why couldn't he talk about Yeager? He tried and it was on the tip of his tongue. But it never came out. What does this tell you about the mentality of test pilots? Suggested Response: It is very difficult for people who are so competitive to acknowledge that someone else is better than they are.
Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions
FRIENDSHIP AND TEAMWORK
1. Give some examples of the teamwork among the astronauts shown in this film.
2. Give some examples of friendship among the astronauts shown in this film.
3. Is it courageous or foolhardy to be a test pilot? Suggested Response: The difference between courage and foolishness lies in the context in which the action is taken. Being a test pilot despite the great risk is courageous if there is a reasonable chance of success and the flight or test program is important enough to die for. Otherwise, it's recklessness.
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act -- consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)
Bridges to Reading:
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe is entertaining and fascinating reportage, suitable for good readers ages 14 and up.
Links to the Internet:
See Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff" — Reading and Discussion Questions from Brown University;
See NASA's Web Page on Human Exploration Options;
See NASA Web Page on the Mercury Space Program; and
See NASA History Page on Mercury Space Program.
Selected Awards, Cast and Director:
Selected Awards: 1983 Academy Awards: Best Film Editing, Best Sound, Best Original Score; 1983 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Sheppard), Best Art Direction/Set Direction, Best Cinematography; 1984 Golden Globe Awards; Nominations: Best Picture.
Featured Actors: Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, Sam Shepard, Scott Glen, Fred Ward, Barbara Hershey.
Director: Philip Kaufman.
In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:
- The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe, 1979, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, New York
- article "Yeager Retires with A Big Bang", by Wendy Thermos, Los Angeles Times, Sunday, October 23, 2002, pg. B-4.
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