The Right Stuff Discussion Questions

  1. What literary elements does Wolfe bring to the telling of this story? Is it successful as literature? As journalism?
  2. What is the appeal of a “true” story over fiction? Alternately, what is the appeal of fiction over nonfiction?
  3. Consider the 23 percent probability that a Navy pilot would die in an aircraft accident before completing a 20-year career. Discuss the concepts of bravery and the way in which test pilots, astronauts and others involved in the Space Program were “heroes” to many.
  4. Do the astronauts seem aware of the legacy they’ll leave behind as the “Mercury 7” or do they seem as if they live in the present, without concern for the future? Do they seem fearful, and if so, what do they fear most?
  5. How is the romantic notion of exploration and adventure reflected in the book? Discuss how the romance of exploration is portrayed against the political and the bureaucratic in the book. How are the politicians, scientists and NASA decision-makers portrayed?
  6. What role did the press and media play in creating a sense of “celebrity” and/or “hero” for the seven astronauts? How does this book examine the public image versus the private self in American culture?
  7. The media at the time frequently stressed that the men chosen for this mission were “family men.” How does Wolfe portray their wives? What of the relationship between the pilots or astronauts and their families?
  8. Consider the extensive coverage of the lives of these men and their families in the media at the time. In what ways have the news media changed or remained the same in their coverage of patriotic events?
  9. The “right stuff” in the social and political atmosphere of 50 years ago was most often possessed by young, white males, as the subject of this book demonstrates. How does the definition of the “right stuff” translate to today, and to a wider variety of people?

Content last updated: October 31, 2008

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