The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
The Right Stuff is a 1979 book by Tom Wolfe about the pilots engaged in U.S. postwar experiments with experimental rocket-powered, high-speed aircraft as well as documenting the stories of the first Project Mercury astronauts selected for the NASA space program. The Right Stuff is based on extensive research by Wolfe, who interviewed test pilots, the astronauts and their wives, among others. The story contrasts the "Mercury Seven" and their families with test pilots such as Chuck Yeager, who was considered by many contemporaries as the best of them all, but who was never selected as an astronaut. Wolfe wrote that the book was inspired by the desire to find out why the astronauts accepted the danger of space flight. He recounts the enormous risks that test pilots were already taking, and the mental and physical characteristics required for and reinforced by their jobs ("the right stuff"). Wolfe likens the astronauts to "single combat warriors" from an earlier era who received the honor and adoration of their people before going forth to fight on their behalf.