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|Sam Shepard||Chuck Yeager|
|Scott Glenn||Alan Shepard|
|Ed Harris||John Glenn|
|Dennis Quaid||Gordon Cooper|
|Fred Ward||Gus Grissom|
|Barbara Hershey||Glennis Yeager|
|Kim Stanley||Pancho Barnes|
|Veronica Cartwright||Betty Grissom|
|Pamela Reed||Trudy Cooper|
|Scott Paulin||Deke Slayton|
|Charles Frank||Scott Carpenter|
|Lance Henriksen||Wally Schirra|
|Donald Moffat||Lyndon B. Johnson|
|Levon Helm||Jack Ridley / Narrator|
|Mary Jo Deschanel||Annie Glenn|
|Kathy Baker||Louise Shepard|
|Scott Wilson||Scott Crossfield|
|James D. Brubaker||Executive Producer|
|Caleb Deschanel||Director of Photography|
|Bill Conti||Original Music Composer|
|Stephen A. Rotter||Editor|
|Tom Wolfe||Story Contributor|
"How the future began."
The film begins in 1947 at Muroc Army Air Field, an arid California military base where test pilots often die flying high-speed aircraft such as the rocket-powered Bell X-1. After another pilot (Slick Goodlin, played by William Russ) demands $150,000 to attempt to break the sound barrier, war hero Captain Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) receives the chance to fly the X-1. While on a horseback ride with his wife Glennis (Barbara Hershey), Yeager collides with a tree branch and breaks his ribs, which inhibits him from leaning over and locking the door to the X-1. Worried that his injury might become known, Yeager confides in friend and fellow pilot Jack Ridley (Levon Helm). Ridley cuts off part of a broomstick and tells Yeager to use it as a lever to help seal the hatch to the X-1, and Yeager becomes the first man to fly at supersonic speed, defeating the "demon in the sky".
In 1953 Muroc, now Edwards Air Force Base, still attracted the best test pilots. Yeager (now a colonel) and friendly rival Scott Crossfield (Scott Wilson) repeatedly break the other's speed records. The "prime" pilots often visit the Happy Bottom Riding Club run by Pancho Barnes (Kim Stanley), where Gordon "Gordo" Cooper (Dennis Quaid), Virgil "Gus" Grissom (Fred Ward) and Donald "Deke" Slayton (Scott Paulin), all captains of the United States Air Force, are among the newer "pudknockers" that hope to also prove that they have "the Right Stuff". Pancho Barnes (Kim Stanley) classifies the pilots at Edwards as either "prime" pilots (such as Yeager and Crossfield) that fly the best equipment or "pudknockers" who only dream about it. The tests are no longer secret, as the military soon recognizes that it needs good publicity for funding, and with "no bucks, no Buck Rogers". Cooper's wife, Trudy (Pamela Reed), and other wives are afraid of becoming widows, but cannot change their husbands' ambitions and desire for success and fame.
In 1957, the launch of the Russian Sputnik satellite alarms the United States government. Politicians such as Senator Lyndon B. Johnson and military leaders demand that NASA help America defeat the Russians in the new Space Race. The search for the first Americans in space excludes Yeager, because he lacks a college degree. Grueling physical and mental tests select the Mercury Seven astronauts, including John Glenn (Ed Harris) of the United States Marine Corps, Alan Shepard (Scott Glenn), Walter Schirra (Lance Henriksen) and Scott Carpenter (Charles Frank) of the United States Navy, as well as Cooper, Grissom and Slayton; they immediately become national heroes. Although many early NASA rockets explode during launch, the ambitious astronauts all hope to be the first in space as part of Project Mercury. Although engineers see the men as passengers, the pilots insist that the Mercury spacecraft have a window, a hatch with explosive bolts, and pitch-yaw-roll controls. However, Russia beats them on April 12th, 1961 with the launch of Vostok 1 carrying Yuri Gagarin into space. The 7 astronauts then decide they've been waiting long enough, and to "get the show on the road".
Shepard is the first American to reach space on the 15-minute sub-orbital flight of Mercury-Redstone 3 on May 5th. After Grissom's similar flight of Mercury-Redstone 4 on July 21st, the capsule's hatch blows open and quickly fills with water. Grissom escapes, but the spacecraft, overweight with seawater, sinks. Many criticize Grissom for possibly panicking and opening the hatch prematurely. Glenn becomes the first American to orbit the Earth on Mercury-Atlas 6 on February 20th 1962, surviving a possibly loose heat shield, and receives a ticker-tape parade. He, his colleagues, and their families become celebrities, including a gigantic celebration in Texas, despite Glenn's wife Annie's (Mary Jo Deschanel) fear of public speaking due to a stutter.
Although test pilots at Edwards mock the Mercury program for sending "spam in a can" into space, they recognize that they are no longer the fastest men on Earth, and Yeager states that "it takes a special kind of man to volunteer for a suicide mission, especially when it's on national TV." While testing the new Lockheed NF-104A, Yeager attempts to set a new altitude record at the edge of space but is nearly killed in a high-speed ejection when his engine failed. Though badly burned, after reaching the ground Yeager gathers up his parachute and walks to the ambulance, proving that he still has the Right Stuff.
The film ends with Cooper's successful launch on May 15th 1963 on Mercury-Atlas 9, ending the Mercury program. As the last American to fly into space alone, he "went higher, farther, and faster than any other American ... for a brief moment, Gordo Cooper became the greatest pilot anyone had ever seen."
DVD : 1997-06-25
DVD : 1997-08-27
DVD : 2003-06-10