Review: ‘The Real Right Stuff’ revels in the heroism of the first American astronauts

Recently, in reviewing the recent Disney+ / National Geographic series The Right Stuff, I commented that while it was competently made, the new adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s seminal book didn’t really bring anything new to the table, or the story. In hindsight, that may have been unfair. It’s true that the story is not new and that I have seen it before, but it did at least bring us the story of seven men rather than seven heroes.

The Real Right Stuff, a documentary about the same seven men and the Mercury Space Program, is in some ways a perfect follow up to that series. Using previously unreleased stories, audio recordings, and footage, it takes an in-depth look at the first American men to fly in space and what they had to go through to get there, and casts them once again as heroes.

In effect, the mini-series and this documentary form two parts of a whole. The former giving us a closer look at the men themselves, and the latter giving us a more complete overview of the mercury program itself.

The Real Right Stuff does bring something new to the table in the form of previously unseen footage and photos of the Mercury 7 astronauts and the program. I’ve seen a lot of behind the scenes imagery before, and meticulous recreations of the events depicted. Still, it really does lend something else actually to see the original events as they happened.

It’s also an interesting glimpse into the past of America’s mantra of rugged exceptionalism, in that these men are exactly the type of type-a personalities that the program requires. Still, they are among the first to defend the program as a public good. That a plan with no obvious reward other than getting into space first is something that the bulk of the nation seemed to be behind, not to put a damper on the story, but imagine where America might be now if that attitude had been retained?

The story of the Mercury space program is a well-told one. You’ve probably heard it before. Hell, you may have just watched it on Disney+. The Real Right Stuff does bring something extra to the table, and if you have already watched The Right Stuff on Disney+, then you should definitely follow that up with this.

The Real Right Stuff premieres on November 20th on Disney+

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