As a country, Americans are fascinated with space travel, and that's as true today as it was 60 years ago, when NASA first built the Mercury Space Program. That program is the focus of Nat Geo and Disney+'s new series The Right Stuff, which will attempt to de-glamour and humanize the seven astronauts who became iconic figures in our country's history.
When these test pilots were first introduced as the seven men who would be the United States' major players in the space race, they immediately rocketed from obscurity into stardom. The public became obsessed with every aspect of their lives, but due to an exclusive deal between NASA and Life Magazine, their public image (wholesome, patriotic, family men) wasn't necessarily an accurate reflection of who these men truly were.
Bringing a more honest version of these national heroes to life are Patrick J. Adams as Major John Glenn; Jake McDorman as Lieutenant Commander Alan Shepard; Colin O'Donoghue as Captain Gordo Cooper; Aaron Staton as Wally Schirra; James Lafferty as Scott Carpenter; Micah Stock as Deke Slayton; and Michael Trotter as Gus Grissom.
"They're test pilots. They are hard-drinking, fast-driving, living on the cutting edge all the time guys that were kind of shoehorned into this squeaky clean image, and they kind of buck at that — often," Jake McDorman, told reporters on the set of The Right Stuff back in 2019. "The Life Magazine covers [held] these people up like these heroes, which they are, but to show the discrepancies between that image, that was really important — at least NASA and the government deemed very important for [the Mercury Seven] to maintain to garner public opinion to continue to support the space race against the Russians — versus who these people really were, which is intelligent, brave, very capable people, but fallible human beings, like anyone. "
The Right Stuff goes out of its way to ensure audiences are getting a less sanitized look at these men, warts and all, which is most perfectly represented in Colin O'Donoghue's character, Gordo Cooper. When the series picks up, Gordo's marriage has fallen apart, which threatens his chances of being picked to be in the Mercury Space Program. NASA wanted wholesome family men, not divorcees, which put him and his wife Trudy in a difficult position.
"His facade is that he is pretty easygoing and charming — he has like a southern charm or whatever — but he has a lot of cracks in his personality, and it's quite complicated," Colin O'Donoghue said. "And [he's] probably very insecure, I think, which are things that these guys have never, ever exposed in themselves. Trudy and Gordo have a very, very complicated relationship. And I think this version of Gordo in The Right Stuff is sort of really, for him, trying to navigate what it means to have a family and sort of be all of a sudden one of the most famous people in the country. And then how does he navigate that?"
"In order to be in the program, he had to be married," added Eloise Mumford, who plays Trudy, a pilot and aspiring astronaut in her own right. "And so [Trudy] came back and stayed with him, historically, through when he finished Apollo — when he finished the program, and then they divorced... She finds herself in the middle of this world, with a husband who she has a really complicated relationship with. I think that she came back because she just wanted to be near it all. And at the time, the fact that the best way for a woman to do that was to be married to an astronaut is, like, heartbreaking and also I think so monstrously true."
In the end though, this deeper dive into the true lives of the Mercury Seven and their families only serves to make an epic story even more inspirational, and these American heroes even more admirable.
The Right Stuff premieres Friday, Oct. 9 on Disney+.