The Right Stuff Quotes

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The Right Stuff The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
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The Right Stuff Quotes Showing 1-28 of 28
“In time, the Navy would compile statistics showing that for a career Navy pilot, i.e., one who intended to keep flying for twenty years... there was a 23 percent probability that he would die in an aircraft accident. This did not even include combat deaths, since the military did not classify death in combat as accidental.”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
“A persistent case of the bingos was enough to wash a man out of night carrier landings. That did not mean you were finished as a Navy pilot. It merely meant that you were finished so far as carrier ops were concerned, which meant that you were finished so far as combat was concerned, which meant you were no longer in the competition, no longer ascending the pyramid, no longer qualified for the company of those with the right stuff.”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
“Well … things are beginning to stack up a little,” said Gordo. It was the same old sod-hut drawl. He sounded like the airline pilot who, having just slipped two seemingly certain mid-air collisions and finding himself in the midst of a radar fuse-out and control-tower dysarthria, says over the intercom: “Well, ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be busy up here in the cockpit making our final approach into Pittsburgh, and so we want to take this opportunity to thank you for flying American and we hope we’ll see you again real soon.” It was second-generation Yeager, now coming from earth orbit. Cooper was having a good time. He knew everybody was in a sweat down below. But this was what he and the boys had wanted all along, wasn’t it?”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
“It was as if the press in America, for all its vaunted independence, were a great colonial animal, an animal made up of countless clustered organisms responding to a central nervous system. In the late 1950's (as in the late 1970's) the animal seemed determined that in all matters of national importance the proper emotion, the seemly sentiment, the fitting moral tone, should be established and should prevail; and all information that muddied the tone and weakened the feeling should simply be thrown down the memory hole. In a later period this impulse of the animal would take the form of blazing indignation about corruption, abuses of power, and even minor ethical lapses, among public officials; here, in April of 1959, it took the form of a blazing patriotic passion for the seven test pilots who had volunteered to go into space. In either case, the animal's fundamental concern remained the same: the public, the populace, the citizenry, must be provided with the correct feelings! One might regard this animal as the consummate hypocritical Victorian gent. Sentiments that one scarcely gives a second thought to in one's private life are nevertheless insisted upon in all public utterances. (And this grave gent lives on in excellent health.)”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
“Night landings were a routine part of carrier operations—and perhaps the best of all examples of how a man’s accumulated good works did him no good whatsoever at each new step up the great pyramid, of how each new step was an absolute test, and of how each bright new day’s absolutes—chosen or damned—were built into the routine.”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
“The sky turned a deep purple and all at once the stars and moon came out — and the sun shone at the same time. He had reached a layer of the upper atmosphere where the air was too thin to contain reflecting dust particles.”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
“Single combat was not seen as a humanitarian substitute for wholesale slaughter until late in its history. That was a Christian reinterpretation of the practice. Originally it had a magical meaning. In ancient China, first the champion warriors would fight to the death as a “testing of fate,” and then the entire armies would fight, emboldened or demoralized by the outcome of the single combat. Before Mohammed’s first battle as the warrior-prophet, the Battle of Badr, three of Mohammed’s men challenged the Meccans to pick out any three of their soldiers to fight in single combat, proceeded to destroy them with all due ceremony, whereupon Mohammed’s entire force routed the entire Meccan force.”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
“Naturally you needed a man with the courage to ride on top of a rocket, and you were grateful that such men existed. Nevertheless, their training was not a very complicated business.”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
“Each candidate was to deliver two stool specimens to the Lovelace laboratory in Dixie cups, and days were going by and Conrad had been unable to egest even one, and the staff kept getting after him about it. Finally he managed to produce a single bolus, a mean hard little ball no more than an inch in diameter and shot through with some kind of seeds, whole seeds, undigested. Then he remembered. The first night in Albuquerque he had gone to a Mexican restaurant and eaten a lot of jalapeño peppers. They were jalapeño seeds. Even in the turd world this was a pretty miserable-looking objet. So Conrad tied a red ribbon around the goddamned thing, with a bow and all, and put it in the Dixie cup and delivered it to the lab.”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
“After all, the right stuff was not bravery in the simple sense of being willing to risk your life (by riding on top of a Redstone or Atlas rocket). Any fool could do that (and many fools would no doubt volunteer, given the opportunity), just as any fool could throw his life away in the process. No, the idea (as all pilots understood) was that a man should have the ability to go up in a hurtling piece of machinery and put his hide on the line and have the moxie, the reflexes, the experience, the coolness, to pull it back at the last yawning moment—but how in the name of God could you either hang it out or haul it back if you were a lab animal sealed in a pod? Every”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
“Nevertheless, there was something extraordinary about it when a man so young, with so little experience in flight test, was selected to go to Muroc Field in California for the XS–1 project. Muroc was up in the high elevations of the Mojave Desert. It looked like some fossil landscape that had long since been left behind by the rest of terrestrial evolution. It was full of huge dry lake beds, the biggest being Rogers Lake. Other than sagebrush the only vegetation was Joshua trees, twisted freaks of the plant world that looked like a cross between cactus and Japanese bonsai. They had a dark petrified green color and horribly crippled branches. At dusk the Joshua trees stood out in silhouette on the fossil wasteland like some arthritic nightmare. In the summer the temperature went up to 110 degrees as a matter of course, and the dry lake beds were covered in sand, and there would be windstorms and sandstorms right out of a Foreign Legion movie. At night it would drop to near freezing, and in December it would start raining, and the dry lakes would fill up with a few inches of water, and some sort of putrid prehistoric shrimps would work their way up from out of the ooze, and sea gulls would come flying in a hundred miles or more from the ocean, over the mountains, to gobble up these squirming little throwbacks. A person had to see it to believe it: flocks of sea gulls wheeling around in the air out in the middle of the high desert in the dead of winter and grazing on antediluvian crustaceans in the primordial ooze. When”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
“The congressmen in the room just wanted to see them, to use their position to arrange a personal audience, to gaze upon them with their own eyes across the committee table, no more than four feet away, to shake hands with them, occupy the same space on this earth with them for and hour or so, fawn over them, pay homage to them, bathe in their magical aura, feel the radiation of their righteous stuff, salute them, wish upon them the smile of God...”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
“They presumed a knowledge and an intimacy they did not have and had no right to. Some”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
“DEFINITION OF A SPORTS CAR: A HEDGE AGAINST THE MALE MENOPAUSE.”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
“Yeager had always figured it was useless to try to punch out of a rocket plane. Crossfield called it “committing suicide to keep from getting killed.”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
“The figures were averages and averages applied to those with average stuff”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
“The seven men pressed on. They were tired of the designation of “capsule” for the Mercury vehicle. The term as much as declared that the man inside was not a pilot but an experimental animal in a pod. Gradually, everybody began trying to work the term “spacecraft” into NASA publications and syllabuses. Next”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
“Combat had its own infinite series of tests, and one of the greatest sins was “chattering” or “jabbering” on the radio. The combat frequency was to be kept clear of all but strategically essential messages, and all unenlightening comments were regarded as evidence of funk, of the wrong stuff. A Navy pilot (in legend, at any rate) began shouting, “I’ve got a MiG at zero! A MiG at zero!”—meaning that it had maneuvered in behind him and was locked in on his tail. An irritated voice cut in and said, “Shut up and die like an aviator.” One had to be a Navy pilot to appreciate the final nuance. A good Navy pilot was a real aviator; in the Air Force they merely had pilots and not precisely the proper stuff.”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
“martinet”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
“This was safe enough — the shape didn't move, at least — but it could do terrible thing to, let us say, the gyroscope of the soul.”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
“The best pilots fly more than the others; that's why they're the best.”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
“Many wives of fighter pilots would end up looking on helplessly as their husbands grew more and more distant, a fact they would acknowledge in what were meant as lighthearted remarks, such as: “I’m only his mistress—he’s married to an airplane.” Often she would be overstating their intimacy; the actual mistress would be someone she didn’t know about.”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
“Project Mercury, the human cannonball approach, looked like a Larry Light-bulb scheme, and it gave off the funk of panic. Any pilot who went into it would no longer be a pilot. He would be a laboratory animal wired up from skull to rectum with medical sensors. The rocket pilots had fought this medical crap every foot of the way. Scott Crossfield had reluctantly allowed them to wire him for heartbeat and respiration in rocket flights but had refused to let them insert a rectal thermometer. The pilots who signed up to crawl into the Mercury capsule—the capsule, everybody noted, not the ship—would be called “astronauts.” But, in fact, they would be lab rabbits with wires up the tail and everywhere else.”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
“litotes. There”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
“They would give a lecture about how a pilot should never fly without a good solid breakfast—eggs, bacon, toast, and so forth—because if he tried to fly with his blood-sugar level too low, it could impair his alertness. Naturally, the next day every hot dog in the unit would get up and have a breakfast consisting of one cup of black coffee and take off and go up into a vertical climb until the weight of the ship exactly canceled out the upward thrust of the engine and his air speed was zero, and he would hang there for one thick adrenal instant—and then fall like a rock, until one of three things happened: he keeled over nose first and regained his aerodynamics and all was well, he went into a spin and fought his way out of it, or he went into a spin and had to eject or crunch it, which was always supremely possible.”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
“Word of how the flatworm turned … how the lab rat had risen up … how Pavlov’s dog rang Pavlov’s bell and took notes on it … oh, word of all this circulated quickly, too, and everyone, from Number 1 to Number 8, was quite delighted. There was no indication, however, then or later, that Dr. Gladys Loring was amused in the slightest.”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
“concatenation”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
“John McCormack’s rising in the House of Representatives to say that the United States faced “national extinction” if she did not overtake the Soviet Union in the”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff