Courage is The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

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Courage is The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe's novel The Right Stuff, gives an accurate description into the lives of the first astronauts and rocket-powered aircraft test pilots, from their careers before, during, and after their selection to become astronauts, through to their private home lives. All throughout his book, Wolfe refers to "the right stuff" and "this righteous stuff" without ever saying upfront what "the stuff" really is. I have concluded that throughout the story, "the right stuff" is simply courage. I would personally define courage as: The willingness to put yourself in a potentially dangerous situation. It is never easy to put yourself into a dangerous position, this is because our brain is programmed for survival, but there are ways to better equip our brain so that these situations become less dangerous. A couple of these ways are with our natural instincts and good training.

When you have natural instincts for something, it makes that task easier than for someone who doesn't have the same instincts. There was a good part of Wolfe's book that described how instincts led to Gordon Cooper being selected into the Mercury Program. It was when he was doing the initial interview sessions when the "NASA psychologists were asking candidates about their family lives, Cooper was able to sense the correct answers and describe his family life as terrific, when in fact they were separated". Cooper's natural people person instincts helped him recognize what this line of questioning was about, kept him in the running for an astronaut position-which he later received-and was able to reconcile with his wife so they looked like the model family.

Throughout his book, Wolfe describes training that these men ...

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So after reading stories of astronauts, their families, and test pilots, I take Tom Wolfe's phrase "The Right Stuff" to mean courage that was obtained from natural instinct and training. Without any of these special traits, I believe that finding a person to fly strapped onto a rocket into the heavens would have been a very difficult one for the military and NASA. They are the intangible items that make the difference between life and death when a person is placed in a dangerous situation.


Wolfe, Tom. The Right Stuff. New York, NY: Bantam Books, 2001.

Wolfe's novel describes the early years of the manned rocket flight era. He tells stories from legends like Chuck Yeager, Allen Shepard, Neil Armstrong, and Gordon Cooper. These stories tell about their histories from screenings to become astronauts to being record-setting test pilots.
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