Tom Wolfe begins The Right Stuff by introducing Pete Conrad, who did not become an astronaut until the second round of selections, and Chuck Yeager, who was never an astronaut. Still, both men have always possessed the “right stuff,” especially Yeager, “the most righteous of all the possessors.” From the third chapter onward, the worth of every astronaut is implicitly measured against that of Yeager, the acknowledged king of the fighter pilots turned test pilots. Wolfe defines the right stuff as the Fighter Jock’s combination of courage, competence, insouciance, and unshakeable self-confidence. Wolfe compares the astronauts’ right stuff to the defining quality of the Elect. In Calvinistic theology, the Elect are those fortunate souls who are predestined for salvation from the beginning of time. If one is not among the Elect, then one cannot get to be. If one does not already possess the right stuff, then one cannot get it.
The incidents in The Right Stuff are factual, but the author gives them a novelistic treatment. He does not, like some of his fellow New Journalists, fabricate conversations to which he was not privy, but he does chronicle the thought processes of the astronauts and their wives at length. He devotes detailed chapters to the suborbital flights of Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom, to the increasingly sophisticated orbital flights of John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra, and Gordon Cooper. As usual, Wolfe is...
(The entire section is 512 words.)