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HISTORY

The film begins with the following voice-over narration by actor Levon Helm: “There was a demon that lived in the air. They said whoever challenged him would die. Their controls would freeze up, their planes would buffet wildly, and they would disintegrate. The demon lived at Mach 1 on the meter, 750 miles an hour, where the air could no longer move out of the way. He lived behind a barrier through which they said no man could ever pass. They called it the sound barrier. Then they built a small plane, the X-1, to try and break the sound barrier, and men came to the high desert of California to ride it. They were called test pilots, and no one knew their names.” The picture ends with Levon Helm declaring: “The Mercury program was over. Four years later, astronaut Gus Grissom was killed along with astronauts White and Chaffee when fire swept through their Apollo capsule. But on that glorious day in May 1963, Gordo Cooper went higher, farther, and faster than any other American. Twenty-two complete orbits around the world. He was the last American ever to go into space alone. And for a brief moment, Gordo Cooper became the greatest pilot anyone had ever seen.”
       On 16 Oct 1979, DV announced that United Artists (UA) had acquired screen rights to Tom Wolfe’s best-selling novel The Right Stuff (New York, 1979), and a 16 Jan 1980 Var news item added that the studio paid approximately $500,000 for the property. The next day, a 17 Jan 1980 DV ... More Less

The film begins with the following voice-over narration by actor Levon Helm: “There was a demon that lived in the air. They said whoever challenged him would die. Their controls would freeze up, their planes would buffet wildly, and they would disintegrate. The demon lived at Mach 1 on the meter, 750 miles an hour, where the air could no longer move out of the way. He lived behind a barrier through which they said no man could ever pass. They called it the sound barrier. Then they built a small plane, the X-1, to try and break the sound barrier, and men came to the high desert of California to ride it. They were called test pilots, and no one knew their names.” The picture ends with Levon Helm declaring: “The Mercury program was over. Four years later, astronaut Gus Grissom was killed along with astronauts White and Chaffee when fire swept through their Apollo capsule. But on that glorious day in May 1963, Gordo Cooper went higher, farther, and faster than any other American. Twenty-two complete orbits around the world. He was the last American ever to go into space alone. And for a brief moment, Gordo Cooper became the greatest pilot anyone had ever seen.”
       On 16 Oct 1979, DV announced that United Artists (UA) had acquired screen rights to Tom Wolfe’s best-selling novel The Right Stuff (New York, 1979), and a 16 Jan 1980 Var news item added that the studio paid approximately $500,000 for the property. The next day, a 17 Jan 1980 DV column stated that William Goldman was hired to write the adaptation, and principal photography was scheduled to begin in summer 1980. Producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff, who had achieved success with the first two Rocky pictures (1976 and 1979, see entries), and had just finished Raging Bull (1980, see entry), were first introduced to The Right Stuff by director John Boorman in 1979, according to a 6 Jun 1982 NTY article. Chartoff and Winker met Tom Wolfe in 1966, when they optioned his short story, “The Girl of the Year,” and hired him to write his first screenplay, but the film never went into production. Chartoff told LAT that there was little competition among Hollywood studios to option The Right Stuff, and Wolfe provided assistance throughout development.
       As stated in Michael Paris’s From the Wright Brothers to Top Gun: Aviation, Nationalism, and Popular Cinema (New York, 1995), Goldman’s original script did not include Chuck Yeager’s historical 1947 flight that broke the sound barrier, and focused entirely on the Project Mercury astronauts. When Philip Kaufman took over as director, however, he insisted on combining Yeager’s story with the Mercury Seven narrative. Goldman reportedly wanted to use the astronauts as a vehicle to demonstrate “that America was still a great place,” but Kaufman “wanted to say that America was going down the tubes. That it had been great once, but those days were gone.” In Goldman’s perspective, the introduction of Yeager into the story was Kaufman’s way of creating a counterpoint to the astronauts, who were regarded as less sophisticated pilots than Yeager because their spacecrafts were operated by ground control. This contrast between traditional self-made men of rugged individualism, and “mechanical men” heroes, who are regulated by modern technology and the government, set Goldman at creative odds with Kaufman, and the writer left the project. Kaufman told the 6 Jun 1982 NYT that he rewrote the script because it did not mention Yeager, but a greater setback to the production was UA’s financial crisis after the release of Heaven’s Gate (1980, see entry). Since the studio could no longer finance The Right Stuff, the project was put into turnaround. The Ladd Company acquired the project “almost immediately” and development resumed in Oct 1981 with an $18 million budget.
       An 8 Mar 1982 Var news item announced that actor Mark Harmon was leaving his role in the film, and a 3 May 1982 Var brief stated that Roger Rook had been cast as an “air controller.” Rook and Harmon are not credited onscreen.
       Principal photography began the week of 15 Mar 1982, according to a New York column published that day. Although much of the film takes place in FL, Kaufman chose to film in his hometown of San Francisco, CA, with additional locations at Hamilton Army Airfield in Novato, CA, and Edwards Air Force Base near Lancaster, CA, as stated in production notes in AMPAS library files. In San Francisco, the recently-vacated St. Joseph’s Hospital was used for filming the astronauts’ training sequences, representing Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque, NM, and Cow Palace stood in for the Astrodome in Houston, TX, where the astronauts were welcomed to their new space center by Lyndon B. Johnson. The San Francisco Opera House was used to depict a Washington, D.C., boardroom, and a private residence south of the city was the location of John Glenn’s suburban home in Arlington, VA. John Glenn’s ticker tape parade homecoming was shot on Samsome Street, which stood in for downtown New York City, and a bar in Burlingame, CA, was used as the astronauts’ meeting place in Cocoa Beach, FL. San Francisco filming also took place at the U.S. Customhouse and at a large disco that recently closed after a fire. The building housed sets for the Australian “blockhouse” interiors and Mission Control.
       Moving to the Mojave Desert, the filmmakers constructed the set of the “Happy Desert Riding Club” and shot the “blockhouse” exteriors. At Edwards Air Force Base, Yeager’s historic sound barrier flight was shot on the same Old South Base and runway in which the event occurred in 1947. An exact replica of Yeager’s X-1 rocket plane was constructed for the scene. In addition, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) gave the production the original mold and blueprints of the Project Mercury capsules to be used for the film’s full-sized duplicates. The Federal Republic of Germany loaned two supersonic F-104 Starfighters to stand in for the NF-104, which Yeager tested at the end of the movie, and the U.S. nonprofit organization, the Confederate Air Force, allowed the production to use its WWII B-29 Superfortress, the only known remaining aircraft of its kind at that time.
       Seven months after filming began, a 20 Oct 1982 DV news item announced that production was recently completed. A 17 Jan 1983 DV column noted that pick-up shoots were underway in the Mojave Desert, where parachute stuntman Joseph Leonard Svec was killed when his backup chutes failed to deploy during the scene in which Yeager ejects from the NF-104.
       Although the picture was initially given an R-rating by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), an appeal was approved in mid-Sep 1983, as stated in a 14 Sep 1983 Var column. A 22 Sep 1983 HR news item explained the initial rating resulted from the use of an obscenity by astronaut Alan Shepard, but the MPAA agreed to keep it in the picture because the word had historical credibility: Shepard actually uttered the four-letter-word when he was on a mission.
       The Right Stuff received favorable reviews, many of which noted that astronaut John Glenn was running for a democratic presidential nomination at that time. On 1 Nov 1983, DV announced that the picture grossed $1,601,167 its opening weekend at 229 theatres, and another $1,565,169 its second weekend.
       The film was nominated for four Academy Awards in the following categories: Actor in a Supporting Role (Sam Shepard), Art Direction, Cinematography, and Best Picture. It won Academy Awards for: Film Editing, Music (Original Score), Sound, and Sound Effects Editing.
       End credits include: “Special thanks to: Wally Nicita, Walter Murch, Arthur Baliantz,” and, “LIFE title and format used with permission of Time, Inc.” In addition: “The producers wish to gratefully acknowledge the support and cooperation of the following: “National Aeronautics and Space Administration; Department of Defense; Bell Aerospace Textron; Marine World Africa USA; Department of the Army; Boeing Aerospace Company; Pima County Air Museum; Department of the Navy; Convair; Thunderbird Aviation; Department of the Air Force, Air Force Museum; David Clark Company; Warbirds Unlimited; United States Coast Guard; Grumman Corporation; Blue Ribbon Meats; Department of Transportation; Lockheed Corporation; Dennis Buhen; Federal Bureau of Investigation; Northrop Corporation; Cliff Branch; National Air and Space Museum; Aviation Systems International, Inc,; Bill DiStefani; Government Services Administration; Rocketdyne; Al Hansen; Federal Republic of Germany Armed Forces Administration; Confederate Air Force; Dwight Reimer; Crane Helicopter Services; AAHMES Shrine Mounted Patrol.” End credits state: “A four part article on the astronauts by Tom Wolfe originally appeared in ROLLING STONE, copyright © 1973 by Tom Wolfe.” More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
16 Oct 1979.
---
Daily Variety
17 Jan 1980.
---
Daily Variety
20 Oct 1982.
---
Daily Variety
17 Jan 1983.
---
Daily Variety
1 Nov 1983.
---
Hollywood Reporter
22 Sep 1983.
---
Hollywood Reporter
11 Oct 1983
p. 3, 31.
Los Angeles Times
21 Oct 1983
p. 1.
New York
15 Mar 1982.
---
New York Times
6 Jun 1982.
---
New York Times
21 Oct 1983
p. 3.
Variety
17 Oct 1979.
---
Variety
16 Jan 1980.
---
Variety
8 Mar 1982.
---
Variety
3 May 1982.
---
Variety
14 Sep 1983.
---
Variety
12 Oct 1983
p. 20.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Co-starring:
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Philip Kaufman film
A Robert Chartoff-Irwin Winkler production
A Ladd Company release thru Warner Bros.
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
Addl 2d asst dir
Unit prod mgr, Addl unit
1st asst dir, Addl unit
2d asst dir, Addl unit
Unit prod mgr, Desert and aerial unit
1st asst dir, Desert and aerial unit
Addl 2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
WRITER
Wrt for the screen by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st asst cam
Desert asst cam
Addl cam op
Addl cam op
Addl cam op
Steadicam op
Steadicam op
Still photog by
Video tech
Video op
Video asst
Supv gaffer
Grip best boy
Best boy grip
Aerial photog
Aerial photog
Aerial photog
Aerial photog
ART DIRECTORS
Storyboards
Storyboards
Storyboards
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
1st asst ed
1st asst ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
Ed consultant
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
Ed asst
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set des
Set des
Lead set dresser
Lead set dresser
Lead set dresser
Addl set dresser
Addl set dresser
Drapery supv
Drapery foreman
Prop master
Asst prop master
Supv const coord
Const coord
Const foreman
Const foreman
Const foreman
Paint coord
Paint foreman
Standby painter
Labor foreman
Greensman
COSTUMES
Cost supv
Women`s cost
Costumer
Costumer
Costumer
MUSIC
Source mus ed
Source mus ed
Scoring mixer
Mus research
Addl mus
Addl mus
SOUND
Supv sd ed
Supv dial ed
Dial ed
ADR ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
ADR asst
Changes asst
Sd eff asst
Sd eff asst
Sd eff asst
Sd eff asst
Foley ed
Foley artist
Foley asst ed
Dial and ADR asst
Dial asst
Dial asst
Dial asst
Sd apprentice
Sd apprentice
Sd apprentice
Sd tech
Prod sd mixer
Cableman
Supv re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Loc and sd eff mixer
Re-rec mix asst
Re-rec facilities by
VISUAL EFFECTS
Visual consultant
Supv spec visual eff
Spec eff supv
Spec eff foreman
Spec eff foreman
Tech eng adv
Spec visual creations
Spec photog eff by
Supv spec vis eff, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossa
Motion control systems des, Spec photog eff by USF
Prod mgr, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Picture
Mechanical des, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal P
Prod admin, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Pictu
Eng consultant, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal P
Art supv, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Picture
Computer programmer, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colos
Photog printer, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal P
Art asst, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Picture
Eff cam, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Pictures
Eff cam, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Pictures
Eff cam, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Pictures
Eff cam, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Pictures
Eff cam, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Pictures
Eff cam, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Pictures
Eff cam, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Pictures
1st asst cam, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Pic
1st asst cam, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Pic
1st asst cam, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Pic
2d asst cam, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Pict
2d asst cam, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Pict
2d asst cam, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Pict
2d asst cam, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Pict
Key grip, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Picture
Key grip, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Picture
Key grip, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Picture
Key grip, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Picture
Pyrotechncian, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Pi
Chief stage tech, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal
Chief stage tech, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal
Tech researcher, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal
Ed coord, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Picture
Ed coord, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Picture
Ed coord, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Picture
Ed coord, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Picture
Ed apprentice, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Pi
Chief model des, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal
Chief model des, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal
Model shop supv, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal
Modelmaker, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Pictu
Modelmaker, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Pictu
Modelmaker, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Pictu
Modelmaker, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Pictu
Modelmaker, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Pictu
Modelmaker, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Pictu
Modelmaker, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal Pictu
Asst prod admin, Spec photog eff by USFX/Colossal
Title des
Titles and opticals by
Addl opticals by
Addl opticals by
Addl opticals by
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting
Stock footage research
Stock footage research
Stock footage research
Stock footage research
Scr supv
Tech advisor
Unit pub
Historical research
Historical research
Historical research
Transportation capt
Transportation capt
Transportation co-captain
Transportation co-captain
Craft service
Loc mgr
Addl loc
Addl loc
Casting asst
Casting asst
San Francisco addl casting
Prod coord
Prod accountant
Crowd promotion coord
Promotion consultant
Promotion ward coord
Asst to Mr. Chartoff
Asst to Mr. Winkler
Asst to Mr. Kaufman
Asst to Mr. Kaufman
Asst to Mr. Kaufman
Asst to Mr. Kaufman
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Military liaison officer
Military liaison officer
Military liaison officer
Military liaison officer
Military liaison officer
Military liaison officer
Military liaison officer
STAND INS
Parachute stunts
Parachute stunts
Parachute stunts
Parachute stunts
Stunt pilot
Stunt pilot
Stunt coord
COLOR PERSONNEL
Process supv
Process coord
Process coord
Col timer
Prints by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe (New York, 1979).
AUTHOR
SONGS
“Southwestern Waltz,” performed by Bob Wills, courtesy of MCA Records, Inc.
“The Wayward Wind,” performed by Gogi Grant, courtesy of K-Tel Entertainment, Inc.
Taiko drums performed by Seiichi Tanaka
+
SONGS
“Southwestern Waltz,” performed by Bob Wills, courtesy of MCA Records, Inc.
“The Wayward Wind,” performed by Gogi Grant, courtesy of K-Tel Entertainment, Inc.
Taiko drums performed by Seiichi Tanaka
“Faraway Places,” performed by Margaret Whiting, courtesy of MCA Records, Inc.
“Good Golly Miss Molly,” performed by Little Richard, courtesy of Specialty Records
“Anchors Aweigh,” performed by Banda Taurina, courtesy of Audiofidelity Enterprises, Inc.
“I Got A Rocket In My Pocket,” performed by Jimmy Lloyd, courtesy of Capitol Records, Inc.
“Hallelujah Chorus,” performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Carl Richter, courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon, a division of Polygram Classics, Inc.
“The U.S. Air Force,” words and music by Robert Crawford
“White Dawn,” performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Henry Mancini, courtesy of RCA Records
“Wheel Of Fortune,” performed by Kay Starr, courtesy of Capitol Records, Inc.
“La Bamba,” performed by Chubby Checker, courtesy of ABKCO Records, Inc.
“Mars, Jupiter, & Neptune,” performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Seiji Ozawa, courtesy of Philips Records, a division of Polygram Classics, Inc.
“Tennessee Waltz,” performed by Patti Page, courtesy of Polygram Records, Inc.
“I Only Have Eyes For You,” performed by the Flamingos, courtesy of Roulette Records, Inc.
“Yablochka,” performed by the Andreyev Balalaika Ensemble, courtesy of Monitor Records.”
+
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Release Date:
21 October 1983
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 21 October 1983
Production Date:
began week of 15 March 1982
Copyright Claimant:
The Ladd Company
Copyright Date:
20 January 1984
Copyright Number:
PA201452
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Lenses
Lenses and Panaflex® camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
193
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
26853
SYNOPSIS

At Muroc Air Force Base in 1940s California, test pilots risk their lives to set a new record for speed, and frequent a rugged bar called Happy Desert Riding Club. There, pilot “Slick” Goodlin brags he can break the sound barrier for $150,000, but war hero Chuck Yeager volunteers to perform the mission at no added cost to his meager salary. The night before his flight, Yeager playfully chases his wife, Glennis, through the desert on horseback and breaks a rib, but he reports to duty in the morning, and his friend, Jack Ridley, rigs the X-1 rocket hatch with a broken broom handle to accommodate for Yeager’s injury. On 14 October 1947, Yeager becomes the first man to break the sound barrier. Although the flight is deemed “top secret” by the U.S. government, rumors spread about Yeager, who becomes known as “the fastest man alive,” and pilots flock to California’s Mojave Desert, hoping to top Yeager’s ongoing streak of record-breaking speeds. By 1952, Muroc is renamed “Edwards Air Force Base” and becomes home to the best pilots in the world, including Gordon “Gordo” Cooper, Donald “Deke” Slayton, and Virgil “Gus” Grissom. As the men compete for the most dangerous missions, their wives worry about becoming widows. In 1957, the Soviet Union launches “Sputnik,” becoming the first country to operate a global satellite in outer space, and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson fears Russia has gained an upper hand in the Cold War. Eager to overshadow “Sputnik” and assert America’s world-dominance, Johnson advises a committee to endorse a new space program, “Project Mercury,” which will launch human-piloted rockets into space. ... +


At Muroc Air Force Base in 1940s California, test pilots risk their lives to set a new record for speed, and frequent a rugged bar called Happy Desert Riding Club. There, pilot “Slick” Goodlin brags he can break the sound barrier for $150,000, but war hero Chuck Yeager volunteers to perform the mission at no added cost to his meager salary. The night before his flight, Yeager playfully chases his wife, Glennis, through the desert on horseback and breaks a rib, but he reports to duty in the morning, and his friend, Jack Ridley, rigs the X-1 rocket hatch with a broken broom handle to accommodate for Yeager’s injury. On 14 October 1947, Yeager becomes the first man to break the sound barrier. Although the flight is deemed “top secret” by the U.S. government, rumors spread about Yeager, who becomes known as “the fastest man alive,” and pilots flock to California’s Mojave Desert, hoping to top Yeager’s ongoing streak of record-breaking speeds. By 1952, Muroc is renamed “Edwards Air Force Base” and becomes home to the best pilots in the world, including Gordon “Gordo” Cooper, Donald “Deke” Slayton, and Virgil “Gus” Grissom. As the men compete for the most dangerous missions, their wives worry about becoming widows. In 1957, the Soviet Union launches “Sputnik,” becoming the first country to operate a global satellite in outer space, and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson fears Russia has gained an upper hand in the Cold War. Eager to overshadow “Sputnik” and assert America’s world-dominance, Johnson advises a committee to endorse a new space program, “Project Mercury,” which will launch human-piloted rockets into space. Over time, pilots are subjected to grueling physical and psychological tests to prove they have “the right stuff,” and on 9 April 1959, the newly-established National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announces the “Mercury Seven” astronauts. Edwards Air Force Base pilots Gordon “Gordo” Cooper, Donald “Deke” Slayton, and Virgil “Gus” Grissom are joined by Marine John Glenn and Navy officers Alan Shepard, Scott Carpenter, and Walter “Wally” Schirra. Back at the Happy Desert Riding Club, pilots Jack Ridley and Chuck Yeager listen to a radio broadcast of the NASA press conference, disgruntled that Yeager was eliminated from the selection due to his lack of higher education. Yeager remains determined to push the limits of aeronautical engineering, even though his celebrity has been eclipsed by the Mercury Seven. Meanwhile, the new astronauts are promoted by the media as Cold War heroes and are relocated to Cape Canaveral, Florida. However, their missions are delayed by a series of failed, unmanned test launches, and NASA decides to replace the pilots with a chimpanzee for the first flight. Resenting the snub, the Mercury Seven band together to prove the merits of their education, insisting that pilots are not interchangeable with primates. The men also leverage their popularity in the press, threatening to smear NASA unless its engineers comply with their demands for a rocket capsule window and escape hatch. Still, NASA launches a chimpanzee into space on 31 January 1961, and the Soviets put a man in space two months later. With new urgency to compete with Russia, the U.S. launches a rocket piloted by Alan Shepard on 5 May 1961, and his successful mission is celebrated by President Kennedy, who declares that Project Mercury is evidence of America’s political and technological mastery. On 21 July 1961, Gus Grissom makes the next Mercury flight, but the capsule hatch prematurely blows open when he lands in the ocean. Despite Grissom’s protests, he is blamed for panicking inside the capsule, triggering the hatch, and causing the aircraft to sink. Grissom fails to receive the heroic homecoming of his predecessor, and his wife, Betty, is devastated. As Betty cries about the sacrifices she and the other Mercury Seven wives make to accommodate for their husbands’ life-threatening careers, news reporters arrive to announce that the government has changed its tack, and Grissom is being heralded as a hero, after all. Back at Edwards Air Force Base, Chuck Yeager watches the ensuing television news coverage with his fellow pilot, Jack Ridley, who suggests President Kennedy is glorifying Grissom to manipulate the media, and divert attention away from the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) failed invasion of Cuba. When Ridley speculates that Grissom is responsible for the sunken capsule, Yeager insists the astronaut should be commended, regardless of the mission’s outcome. Sometime later, the Happy Desert Riding Club is destroyed in a fire, taking with it a memorial wall of photographs that honored unknown test pilots who died in the line of duty. Back in Cape Canaveral, John Glenn is launched into space for the world’s first orbital mission on 20 February 1962. During the flight, ground control is alerted to a failure in the spacecraft’s heat shield, indicating that the capsule will burn up during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, and the mission is cut short. Although Alan Shepard wants to warn his friend, NASA orders him to remain mum, and John Glenn is dazzled by sparks of light that surround the capsule. As Glenn returns to Earth, consumed in flames, his fellow astronauts presume they have lost their friend, but he arrives safely and is honored with a ticker tape parade in New York City. With Project Mercury at the height of its success, the astronauts are relocated to a new space center in Houston, Texas, where Lyndon B. Johnson welcomes them with a stadium celebration. There, Gordo Cooper receives news that he will be the final Mercury Seven astronaut to go into space, and he plans to outshine his predecessors. Meanwhile, back at Edwards Air Force Base, Yeager is tired of being overshadowed by the Mercury astronauts. Eager to set a new record, Yeager sneaks into a state-of-the-art, supersonic NF-104 airplane and pilots the aircraft toward space. However, he loses control of the plane and free falls back to Earth. As Yeager parachutes to the ground, he is reunited with his friend, Jack Ridley, who is astounded by Yeager’s unsung courage. On 15 May 1963, Gordo Cooper finally proves he has “the right stuff,” orbiting Earth twenty-two times, completing Project Mercury, and showing the world that the U.S. is empowered by bravery, collaboration, and patriotism. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.