Wyld Ryce

S3 E29 | CLIP

Tom Wolfe

Wolfe just published a book that delves into the whole question about having "the right stuff." The book is about the Astronauts in the American Space Program but it also looks at what it takes to make it in any profession.

AIRED: May 14, 1980 | 0:07:09
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

MAKER, A GROUP OF YOUNG POETS

AND TWO MASTERS OF THE DOUBLE

BASS.

HELLO.

I'M VERN SUTTON.

I'M A PROFESSOR OF MUSIC AT

THE UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA,

AND I SING WITH THE MINNESOTA

OPERA COMPANY.

WHETHER THEY'RE MUSICIANS OR

ACTORS OR PAINTERS OR WHATEVER,

ARTISTS FACE THE SAME QUESTION

AS EVERYONE ELSE.

DO THEY HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO

MAKE IT IN THE CAREER THEY'VE

CHOSEN?

IT TAKES MORE THAN TALENT AND

EVEN MORE THAN LUCK.

IT TAKES A SPECIAL QUALITY

THAT'S HARD TO PUT INTO WORDS.

OUR FIRST SEGMENT IS ABOUT

WRITER TOM WOLFE, WHO JUST

PUBLISHED A BOOK THAT DELVES

INTO THIS WHOLE QUESTION, AND

HE CALLS THAT SPECIAL QUALITY

THE RIGHT STUFF.

HIS BOOK IS ABOUT THE

ASTRONAUTS IN THE AMERICAN

SPACE PROGRAM, BUT IT'S ALSO

ABOUT WHAT IT TAKES TO MAKE IT

TO THE TOP OF ANY PROFESSION.

WOLFE HIMSELF IS PRETTY GOOD

EVIDENCE THAT IT TAKES A

WRITER WITH THE RIGHT STUFF TO

TELL THE TALE.

[ ♪♪ ]

>> IN THE MOST GRAPHIC WAY

POSSIBLE, WHAT IS BEING

DEMONSTRATED THAT THERE ARE

SOME MEN WHO HAVE WHATEVER IT

TAKES AND IS NEVER DEFINED,

UNTIL THIS DAY IS NEVER

DEFINED, WHO HAVE WHATEVER IT

TAKES TO KEEP ASCENDING THESE

LEVELS.

>> WORDS FROM TOM WOLFE, THE

ACIDLY SHARP JOURNALIST AUTHOR

RECENTLY PUBLISHED A BOOK

ABOUT THE EARLY ASTRONAUTS,

MEN WHO WOLFE IDENTIFIED AS

HAVING THE RIGHT STUFF.

THE RIGHT STUFF IS THE QUALITY

WHICH ENABLED SOME FLYING MEN

TO SURPASS OTHERS ON THE WAY

UP TO PILOT'S PYRAMID, FROM

COMBAT FLYING OVER KOREA TO

FAST LANDINGS ON SLICK

DETECTION AT SEA, COMBAT ACE

TO TEST PILOT CLIMBED THE

FRATERNAL MOUNTAIN BY RISKING

THEIR LIVES AND MAKING IT.

IN THE EARLY '50s, THE BEST

MEN WITH THE RIGHT STUFF WERE

THE TEST PILOTS, SCREAMING

OVER THE CALIFORNIA DESERT IN

ROCKET PLANES AT EDWARDS AIR

FORCE BASE, BREAKING SOUND

BARRIERS, THE STUFF OF SCIENCE

FICTION, MEN LIKE CROSSFIELD,

WALKER, AND CHUCK JAGR.

FOR MANY MILITARY PILOTS THE

CLIMB UP THE MIR MID --

PYRAMID BEGAN IN A T-6

PROP-DRIVEN PLANE.

>> IN THESE EARLY STAGES,

THERE'S ALWAYS AN INSTRUCTIVE

TO DECIDE WHETHER OR NOT

SOMEBODY HAS THIS UNNAMED IT,

THIS QUALITY WHICH I FINALLY

HAD TO GIVE A NAME TO BECAUSE

PILOTS CAN'T TALK ABOUT IT,

WHICH IS MAINLY THE RIGHT

STUFF TO KEEP ASCENDING THIS

PARTICULAR PYRAMID.

>> WITH THE SUCCESSFUL

LAUNCHING OF SPUTNIK IN 1957

AND OUR OWN KAPUT IN THIS CASE,

SHORTLY THEREAFTER, THE

CREDENTIALS FOR MEMBERSHIP IN

THE LOFTYEST OF PILOT CIRCLES

BEGAN TO CHANGE.

IF BARBARIAN RUSSIA COULD BE

THE FIRST TO LOB HARDWARE INTO█

SPACE, AMERICA, THE RIGHTEOUS,

MUST BE THE FIRST TO PUT A MAN

INTO SPACE.

IT WAS COLD WAR GAMESMANSHIP.

AND THE U.S. EFFORT TO CLOSE

THE SPACE GAP WAS CALLED

PROJECT MERCURY.

PROJECT MERCURY WAS RUN NOT BY

THE MILITARY BUT BY A CIVILIAN

AGENCY, THE NATIONAL AIR

NAUTICAL SPACE ADMINISTRATION,

NASA.

NASA WAS GOING TO USE

ASTRONAUTS TO RIDE INTO SPACE.

ASTRONAUTS, NOT PILOTS.

>> THEY WERE NOT AT THE TOP OF

THE PYRAMID AND DIDN'T PRETEND

TO BE.

THEY WERE CHOSEN NOT BECAUSE

THEY WERE THE SEVEN HOTTEST

PILOTS IN AMERICA.

THEY WERE CHOSEN REALLY FOR A

MEDLEY OF REASONS.

SOME OF THEM WERE SUPERB

PHYSICAL --

>> MOREOVER, ARMIES OF

TECHNICIANS AND ENGINEERS

ARMED WITH COMPUTERS WOULD

PILOT THE CAPSULE.

THE ASTRONAUTS WOULD MERELY GO

ALONG FOR THE RIDE, LIKE SO

MANY WHITE RATS IN A LAB TEST.

>> AND THIS LED TO AN UNSEEN

CONFLICT THAT WENT OBJECT

FOR -- THAT WENT ON FOR YEARS

IN WHICH THE FLYERS AT EDWARDS

OF THE JAGR STRIKE BEGAN TO

REALLY, AT THE FIRST, LOOK

DOWN UPON THE SEVEN MERCURY

ASTRONAUTS AS ROOKIES WHO HAD

YET TO PROVE THEMSELVES.

>> PROJECT MERCURY, LIKE THE

ILL-FATED VAN GUARD PROJECT,

BEGAN ON A LESS THAN

IMPRESSIVE NOTE.

FIRST, A MISFIRE.

AND THEN A MONKEY, HAM.

>> THAT WAS THE TAUNT, YOU

KNOW, THE TAUNT WAS, EDWARDS,

WAS THAT A MONKEY IS GOING TO

MAKE THE FIRST FLIGHT BECAUSE,

IN FACT, A MONKEY WAS GOING TO

MAKE THE FIRST FLIGHT.

>> TWO MONTHS AFTER HAM LANDED

SAFELY, THE RUSSIANS

SUCCESSFULLY ORBITED.

A FIGHTER PILOT.

>> IT WAS -- SEEMED LIKE A

TRULY CRITICAL MOMENT IN

AMERICAN HISTORY.

AND IT REVIVED A KIND OF

SUPERSTITIOUS BELIEF IN THE

SINGLE COMBAT WIRE THAT HAD

DIED PROBABLY 1,200 YEARS AGO.

>> ALAN SHEPHERD BECAME

AMERICA'S FIRST DAVID TO THE

RUSSIAN GOLIATH.

BUT HIS FLIGHT WAS ONLY

SUBORBITAL.

COLD WAR AMERICA NEED AID SHOT

IN THE ARM, AS DID KENNEDY'S

NEW FRONTIER, WHICH HAD BEEN

SHARPLY EMBARRASSED BY THE

ABORTED BAY OF PIGS INVASION

IN CUBA.

>> OF LANDING A MAN ON THE

MOON AND RETURNING HIM SAFELY

TO THE EARTH.

>> BY 1959, WHEN THE

ASTRONAUTS WERE CHOSEN, BOTH

OF THE SOVIET UNION AND THE

UNITED STATES HAD THE ATOMIC

BOMB.

AND THEY REALIZED THAT AN OPEN

PITCH BATTLE WAS NOW -- WOULD

BE POSSIBLY CATASTROPHIC TO

THE WHOLE HUMAN RACE.

SO, THAT WAS WHY SPACE WAS

SEEN AS A SINGLE COMBAT AND AT

THAT TIME, THAT WHOEVER WON

THE SPACE RACE WOULD BE

OMNIPOTENT IN THE WORLD.

[ ♪♪ ]

>> WITH JOHN GLEN'S ORBITAL

FLIGHT, ROCKET PLANE PILOTS

LIKE CHUCK JAGR BECAME

UNIMPORTANT, AT LEAST TO THOSE

OUTSIDE THE FRATERNITY.

>> IT REALLY WAS NOT UNTIL

1963, AT THE VERY END OF THE

MERCURY PROGRAM THAT FINALLY

THE RESIDENTS OF OLYMPUS

FINALLY SAID, WELL, THESE GUYS

REALLY, YOU KNOW, ARE NOT BAD,

BUT IT WAS AN UPHILL FIGHT.

AND I THINK WHAT INTERESTS ME

ABOUT ALL OF THAT IS THAT TO

THEM, FROM BEGINNING TO END,

THE APPROVAL OF THEIR PEERS

WAS ABSOLUTELY PARAMOUNT

IMPORTANCE.

♪ I WAS ROLLING ON THE MOON

ONE DAY ♪

>> AMERICAN OBSESSION IN SPACE

LASTED THROUGH THE FIRST FEW

MOON LANDINGS BUT WANED AS

NOVELTY GAVE WAY TO HARD

SCIENCE AND DAY TONIGHT IN THE

HEAVENS.

>> NO LONGER SEEN AS PROTECTED,

NO LONGER SEEN AS SINGLE

COMBAT WARRIORS, NOT DAVID

FIGHTING GOLIATH.

THEY THEN BECAME REALLY

COURAGEOUS -- THEY WERE SEEN

AS COURAGEOUS PEOPLE, BUT

PEOPLE INVOLVED IN A

TECHNOLOGICAL EXPERIMENT.

AND THAT DOESN'T BRING TEARS

TO PEOPLE'S EYES.

YOU COULD MAKE UP THE CASE

THAT THERE'S THE RIGHT STUFF

IN ANY FIELD.

BUT IT ONLY APPLIES, I THINK,

WITH ANY MEANING TO A FIELD

WHERE IN THE ROUTINE

PERFORMANCE OF YOUR JOB,

YOU'RE ACTUALLY RISKING YOUR

LIFE.

WRITERS MAY OCCASIONALLY CHOKE

TO DEATH ON A CHUNK OF CHATEAU

IN AN EXPENSE ACCOUNT

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