46 pages 1 hour read

Tom Wolfe

The Right Stuff

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1979

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Chapters 10-12Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Chapter 10 Summary: “Righteous Prayer”

Chapter 10 provides a detailed, almost moment-by-moment account of Alan Shepard’s suborbital flight on May 5, 1961, that makes him the first American in space.

The chapter opens with Shepard strapped into the tiny Mercury capsule atop the Redstone rocket that will propel him into suborbital space. After 120 simulations of the flight, Shepard is experiencing something new: He has to urinate (191). He has been waiting in the capsule for over four hours while NASA technicians overcome a series of delays in the launch (195). Urine could damage some of the instruments in Shepard’s space suit and potentially alter conditions in the capsule. After a cancellation on May 2 due to bad weather, Shepard is determined not to jeopardize the launch by releasing his bladder (192). “For a test pilot,” Wolfe elaborates, “the right stuff in the prayer department was not ‘Please, God, don’t let me blow up.’ No, the supplication at such a moment was ‘Please, dear God, don’t let me fuck it up’” (195-96). Eventually NASA gives Shepard permission to urinate in his spacesuit, and no adverse consequences result (199).

With everything on the ground finally under control, Shepard lifts off. Wolfe cuts away to his wife, Louise, who is watching the launch on television at their home in Virginia Beach (201-04).