Channel surfing, as a means of a temporary escape from the screeching headlines and daily influx of bad bad terrible awful news, I stumbled upon a movie classic, one I had not revisited in over twenty years.
The Right Stuff
The Right Stuff, the movie, was adapted from Tom Wolfe’s book of the same name and directed by Phillip Kaufman.
The story follows the selection, training, and participation of seven test pilots, selected for Project Mercury, our first manned spaceflights. The film was released in 1983, some twenty-two years after Alan Shepard manned the first mission that lasted 15 minutes.
Fifteen minutes, when I was not yet fifteen myself, but I remember as though it was yesterday. If you were born less than fifty some years ago, you will carry no mind memory of the event. Even some of us my age, missed the events that led up to the actual launch. From the beginning of the space race in 1957 through the three orbit knuckle biting ride through the skies at 17,000 mph by John Glenn in February of 1962, the trajectory into the universe, before unreachable, accelerated at a frantic pace.
This amazing mind memory of mine, and perhaps yours, is as distant to our children and grandchildren, as the stars. We can share our memories with them, but we can never adequately retell the story, without the embellishments of lore. Our stories passed down through time are so preciously personal. There are those seconds, minutes, hours and days of being completely present and engaged. Parked in front of our black and white TV screen, my family huddled together mimicking the countdown, 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1....
Liftoff. We have Liftoff.
We were not alone in those moments. The roar of the Red Stone rockets firing, the gantry falling back and away, the hovering few seconds when nothing moved, no one stirred, was perhaps a solitary moment in history when the entire world held its breath, not out of fear, but of a rare unified hope that all would be well.
The late 1950’s and the early 60’s are spaces in time that our children love to mock as Vintage and Retro. Our clothes, our cars, our politics, our homes, all elicit laughter and guffaws. Crew cuts, bouffant hairdos, tail fins, leisure suits, shirtwaists and pearls.
It is impossible to recreate the pace of those years. How everything changed so fast it was difficult to keep up. What was In was Out. What was Out was In. What was most surely IN was the age of the media. The golden age of television. The nightly news. The days of large cities with not one but three major newspapers, and three television networks on the scene reporting. Live broadcasts with no time for editing or changing the narrative.
Live. Right Now. Right this minute. Right in front of our eyes, with no one to pontificate, or change the narrative. Because we were there. We were ALL there. In the moment. Witnesses to...
The Right Stuff
What began as a race to the heavens, between the United States and Soviet Russia, turned the world upside down. In school we ducked and covered, under ours desks, in fear of the arrival of a nuclear winter.
One technology to destroy. Another to build.
Somehow the world chose the latter. The world chose Humanity, Courage, the Desire to Go Beyond, to Dream, not for cataclysmic catastrophe, but for the pure joy of a joint human endeavor.
I remember watching the nightly news as John Glenn circled the earth. There were glimpses into every corner of the earth, crowds huddled outside shops and stores with a TV in the window, whispering, wondering, praying, then glancing up to the sky, on the chance that they might see the space capsule hurdling by.
The Right Stuff
As we so often do, me included, we disregard history or dismiss the past out of hand. Or more dishearteningly, we mold our history into the formula that fits our beliefs. People do tell stories. No one knows that better than I.
The Right Stuff, the book and the movie, tell a good story, but for those of us who were there, who waited and watched, it is a story worth retelling. Again and again and again.
The sky is no longer the limit.
Anything and everything is possible.
Take a day off from the headlines.
Stargaze and revel in the wonder of your place in the universe. Then reach out a hand to anyone and everyone willing to dream, to create and to DO the seemingly impossible.
Shoot For the Moon