The Real Right Stuff

Movie review by
Stephanie Myers, Common Sense Media
The Real Right Stuff Movie Poster Image
Intriguing documentary about NASA's Mercury Program.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 90 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Themes/messages of hope, bravery, teamwork, and unity. Challenges can be overcome through trial, error, and perseverance. 

Positive Role Models

All of the original seven U.S. astronauts were considered American heroes. Their bravery and dedication to space exploration weren't deterred by the many risks involved. Their wives should also be commended on how they faced the uncertainty of what the missions meant for their families. Rene Carpenter was brave and went on to write an account of her husband's missions in space and waiting for his return from her perspective.   


People discuss how chimpanzees were kidnapped from Africa for use as test subjects. They also discuss the fact that the chimps were shocked with electricity if they made an incorrect selection. One of the first scenes shows a rocket exploding. Addresses the dangers/challenges that NASA and the astronauts faced, such as an escape hatch coming off, running out of fuel, possible heat sensor failure, and the possibility of being lost in space.


The film shows a Holiday Inn Motel, Starlite Motel, NASA, CBS name and logo, Arizona Daily Star.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Real Right Stuff (intended as a companion to Disney+'s dramatic series The Right Stuff) documents the real-life journey of the seven men chosen for NASA's Mercury program, which launched the first U.S. astronauts into space. The film is comprised of interviews, personal movies, and media news footage. One of NASA's failed attempts to successfully launch a rocket is included: News reports show the rocket exploding, which could be upsetting to younger children. NASA used chimpanzees as test subjects, and the film addresses the fact that the animals were kidnapped from Africa to participate in the space program and received electric shocks as part of the experiments. The film also recounts some of the dangers/challenges that NASA and the astronauts faced, such as an escape hatch coming off, running out of fuel, possible heat sensor failure, and the possibility of being lost in space. The astronauts' sudden rise to fame led to them having many followers, most of whom were women and were referred to as "cookies" (another term for groupies). With themes of courage, perseverance, and teamwork, the movie makes it clear that the program's heroes weren't just the men, but also their wives, who were supportive and brave for their children and the people at home.

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What's the story?

THE REAL RIGHT STUFF focuses on the seven men -- Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton -- who were chosen to participate in the United States' first foray into space. Much of the program was driven by the desire to catch up and even surpass the Soviet Union in space exploration and proficiency.  The competitiveness between the two countries during the Cold War underlies much of the film. Director Tom Jennings intercuts interviews with families, news footage, and a never-seen interview by Tom Wolfe (author of the book The Right Stuff) to complete the story of what it was like to be part of NASA's Mercury Program. Though the film doesn’t go into detail about each astronaut's backstory, it does provide insight into how becoming an astronaut forever changed their lives -- and the impact it had on their families. While the Soviet Union conducted their space research in private, NASA and the United States made the Mercury program very public. That meant that the original seven astronauts were suddenly thrust into the limelight: They went from being ordinary citizens to heroes and celebrities who were instantly recognized wherever they went. Their contributions, as well as continued experiments and learnings from NASA, paved the way for future astronauts and space research and technology, allowing the United States to be the first country to reach the moon.

Is it any good?

This documentary is an intriguing, comprehensive account of the seven men chosen to be the United States' first astronauts. Intended as a companion to Disney+'s dramatic series The Right Stuff, The Real Right Stuff examines the human side of the seven. It explores what happened after they were selected, their bravery and charisma, and how they became heroes not just in the United States, but around the world.

Even if you know nothing about the space program, the film offers an understanding of the rivalry between the USA and Soviet Union to be first in space exploration during the Cold War. The Mercury program was clearly a significant step in catapulting NASA's continued research within space exploration. The Real Right Stuff also shows how the astronauts’ wives were heroes in their own right -- being strong and brave for their children, as well as the spokespeople for the media, all while waiting to learn the outcome of their husbands’ missions. Whether you're a space enthusiast or not, The Real Right Stuff is an entertaining, fascinating look at the early days of NASA and how the U.S. space program came to fruition.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the stories and people in The Real Right Stuff demonstrate teamwork, courage, and perseverance. Why are those important character strengths?

  • The film shows that people revered the seven astronauts as heroes: Was this simply because they were chosen? Would it have mattered if their personal lives were less than perfect? Are there other jobs where people are revered as heroes solely on the basis of having that job? Is that justified?

  • What do you think it might have felt like for the astronauts to know the risks of going into space? Do you think they panicked when there were glitches? How do you think the families were affected while listening to the live broadcasts of the missions?

  • Why was it so important for the United States to implement a successful space program and catch up to the Soviet Union?

  • Discuss the different tests necessary for space travel. Why do you think the astronauts underwent so many rigorous tests? Why do you think that, out of 110, only seven were selected?

Movie details

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