Set in the early 60s, The Right Stuff is based on Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book, chronicling NASA’s quest to find and train its first class of astronauts.
The series opens with the culmination of these efforts, as Mercury Seven astronauts Alan Shephard and John Glenn sit eating breakfast the morning before Shepherd’s first flight into space.
The exchange between them is terse and argumentative, leaving no doubt that while today, spaceflight is characterised by co-operation, in the early days it was very much a world of politicking and rivalry.
The scene quickly flashes back two years to the selection of the Mercury 7, which covers the majority of the first episode. Then, the second episode deals with the astronauts and their families adjusting to their new life in the media spotlight.
What is The Right Stuff?
The title of the show comes from the belief at NASA at the time that not only did the potential astronauts need to be highly qualified test-pilots, they also needed to have The Right Stuff – clean-cut, heroic, family men that represented the best of the American ideal.
As such, the show takes a lot of time looking at the astronauts personal and professional lives. Doing this, it focuses in on three of the seven astronauts– Alan Shepard, the first American in space; John Glenn, the first to orbit; and Leroy Gordon ‘Gordo’ Cooper, who flew the last and longest Mercury flight.
Making what are now names in history books into fleshed out human beings helps to keep the show engaging, even to those who are less interested in the technical side of things.
That’s not to say that space buffs will be disappointed. There are plenty of scenes looking at the workings of the space programme, as engineers and managers frantically trying to work out how they are going to achieve the unprecedented task of putting a human into space.
While the first few episodes were light on actual spaceflight, the few action scenes there were give a tantalising hint of what’s to come in later episodes.
What really impressed me was the series’ veracity – it’s a slick production, and the attention to detail makes it feel like you are right there in the 60s. There’s been a lot of time spent in making sure the show feels right, both technically and historically.
One area that the show does fall down on however is that with eight-episodes to fill it doesn’t mind taking its time, and there were several points things began to drag.
Fortunately, the base story at its heart was interesting enough that by the end of the second episode I was raring to get straight on to the third.
You can watch The Right Stuff now over on Disney+. Subscriptions cost £5.99 a month, or £59.00 for the year.