"The Right Stuff" is a new National Geographic drama series that will stream on Disney+. The first two episodes premiere Friday, Oct. 9, and new episodes will be released every Friday for the run of the eight-episode show.
The series is based on Tom Wolfe's influential 1979 book, which dug deep into the origins of the United States space program and, for the first time, gave Americans an in-depth read on the astronauts in the Mercury 7 program and the wives who supported them.
Real life was more complicated than the fairy-tale version that ran in Life Magazine, and Wolfe's book caused a minor earthquake as it topped the bestseller charts and won a National Book Award.
One of the book's big revelations was that NASA scientists didn't appreciate the skills and self-respect of their astronauts. The Mercury 7 crew members fought every step of the way for more input, control of spacecraft and basic safety measures.
We've got a clip from episode two of the series, the moment when the men arrive at their training facility and realize just how little the engineers understand their talents and skills.
"The Right Stuff" television series has the luxury of time. The Oscar-nominated 1983 movie based on the book had to cram the story into 192 minutes, while the series has eight episodes that will at least double that running time.
The show eliminates the book's deep background on the culture of test pilots and the mechanics of the military's competing programs to focus exclusively on the selection, training and missions of Mercury 7. That means no Chuck Yeager but gives the show an opportunity to flesh out the women and dig deeper into the astronauts' marriages.
Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Davisson's Appian Way Productions (which also made the History Channel's "Grant" series earlier this year), the show devoted a lot of attention and money to getting the period look right.
"The Right Stuff" was created by executive producer Mark Lafferty. His experience on "Halt and Catch Fire," the underrated series about the computer revolution, and "Manhattan," the equally underrated drama about the development of the atomic bomb, suggests that he's most interested in the personal interactions of brilliant people in high-stakes situations.
Disney+ made "The Right Stuff" to focus more on the human element. There are plenty of other places to read and learn in detail about the engineering challenges that NASA overcame during the space race. This time, the focus is on the men and their families.
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