What started as just a panel introducing the new National Geographic series The Right Stuff airing on Disney+ turned into a moving hour of truth. Premiering this fall, The Right Stuff tells the incredible story of America’s first astronauts, the Mercury Seven, during the early days of the U.S. Space Program. Like many other retellings, this series is based on the iconic bestseller by Tom Wolfe, also titled “The Right Stuff.”
The Right Stuff Series Synopsis
At the height of the Cold War in 1959, the Soviet Union dominates the space race, and America fears it is a nation in decline. Newly-formed NASA has the monumental task of sending a man into space, and its engineers estimate they need decades to accomplish the feat. They are given two years. Dubbed Project Mercury, the program recruits and trains just seven astronauts from a handful of the military’s best pilots. Within days of being presented to the world, the Mercury Seven become instant celebrities, forged into heroes before they achieve a single heroic act.
At a time when many wondered if America’s glory days were behind it, The Right Stuff is an aspirational story about how ordinary human beings can achieve the extraordinary. As much about who we are today as it is about historic achievements, the series evokes the wonder of this singular era, when the free world looked towards a new horizon of hope as we first stepped off the bounds of our only home to venture into the vast unknown.
But in 2020 and this tumultuous climate, why tell a story of seven white men in the 50’s and early 60’s that’s been told before?
What makes this version of The Right Stuff different and unique?
This was the first question panel moderator and NASA Astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison asked Showrunner and Executive Producer Mark Lafferty, and Executive Producer Jennifer Davisson. The first black woman in space, Dr. Jemison commanded the panel with no-nonsense questions like this.
Mark Lafferty: Instead of telling a historical drama, we wanted it to be a family drama. This includes the families of the astronauts, as well as the NASA ‘family.’ It seems as though in our country we’ve lost our step a little bit in terms of our ability to come together to effect change. And I think any story that can remind us that that is one of our defining characteristics – other countries look to us for this, from our constitution on forward – is a story worth telling.”
Jennifer Davisson: It’s rare that you meet people that put themselves at risk for discovery or innovation. We had seven guys that thought that they could do it for all different reasons. We chose to focus on these seven guys and their wives for this season. There are so many untold and hidden stories that we can dive into in Season 2. Women were kept out of the program and this is a part of Season 1. What we missed in S1 we can’t wait to get into in S2. Our hope was to tell a space story in a way it’s never been told before. There’s real beating heart people behind the program. Alan Shepard and John Glenn are portrayed as these shiny pennies, these icons. We get into the nitty gritty of the people, not just the journey to get to space.”
What does it mean to have ‘The Right Stuff”?
Jake McDorman (“Lieutenant Commander Alan Shepard”): I don’t have it! These guys were all test pilots, and the life expectancy of a test pilot was not long. Fear is something they dealt with constantly, a familiar feeling they’ve faced day in and day out for years on end. So it’s their ability to think clearly, think logically through feelings that would send 98% of people into a panic. [to Dr. Jemison} You did it – you signed up right after The Challenger. That’s the right stuff, in my opinion.
Patrick J. Adams (“Major John Glenn”): I also think in the book, The Right Stuff is referring to the women who have to watch their husbands die – day after day after day. And what it takes to survive that. The mortality rate is such a big part of the book.
The danger of this mission hits home in this sneak peek featuring Alan Shepard. He starts this clip feeling defeated because he didn’t receive a letter to go to the first NASA briefing like his other test pilot friends. All is not lost, however. Watch below.
Women with The Right Stuff
Three of the actresses that portray astronaut’s wives are on this panel today.
Eloise Mumford (Trudy Cooper): They were seen as a monolith ‘the wives’, not individual people. So to have the opportunity to bring to life these incredible women is something I’m really excited for.
Mark Lafferty: Jen and I are so passionate about Annie Glenn – her story is about perseverance and pluck and character. She doesn’t have NASA behind her, Annie Glenn did something by herself. Trudy Cooper was a pilot in her own right. Very Cobb was nominated by a Nobel peace prize. These are stories we want to tell as the series moves forward.
Jennifer Davisson: When you walk away from our last episode of this first season, it has very little to do with the Mercury 7, but has everything to do with the wives and the children.
With that tease, Dr. Jemison concluded the panel by asking everyone to give her a one-word description of the series. She summed it up in one awe-inspiring sentence.
Dr. Mae Jemison: The Right Stuff is a series about determination, balance, recklessness; it’s inspirational; it’s about perseverance and passion, it’s about wonder and hope, ambition, faith, aspiration, endurance and possibilities; and it’s a world we can all relate to. And I would say that the show is amazing, as well as an amazing cast. Thank you.
The Right Stuff premieres on Disney+ this fall.
Comic-Con@Home Full Panel:
Moderated by former NASA Astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, the panel featured cast members Patrick J. Adams (“Major John Glenn”), Jake McDorman (“Lieutenant Commander Alan Shepard”), Colin O’Donoghue (“Captain Gordon Cooper”), Michael Trotter (“Gus Grissom”), Aaron Staton (“Wally Schirra”), Micah Stock (“Deke Slayton”), James Lafferty (“Scott Carpenter”), Nora Zehetner (“Annie Glenn”), Shannon Lucio (“Louise Shepard”), Eloise Mumford (“Trudy Cooper”), Eric Ladin (“Chris Kraft”), and Patrick Fischler (“Bob Gilruth”), Showrunner and Executive Producer Mark Lafferty, and Executive Producer Jennifer Davisson.