46 pages 1 hour read

Tom Wolfe

The Right Stuff

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1979

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Chapters 4-6Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Chapter 4 Summary: “The Lab Rat”

Chapter 4 describes the intense selection process for the first NASA astronauts: the Mercury Seven.

Wolfe returns to Pete Conrad, still a member of Group 20 at Pax River in 1959, when he and his colleagues receive a secret summons to the Pentagon in Washington. Abe Silverstein and George Low, the two senior engineers at NASA, introduce the test pilots to Project Mercury. The objective is to send a human being into space using an unpiloted capsule controlled from the ground. Though less glamorous than flying, Silverstein and Low stress the importance of the endeavor for the nation. After some deliberation, a majority of the young pilots volunteer for the civilian mission: “[W]ithin the souls of the of the rest of the fighter jocks who came to the Pentagon was triggered a motivation that overrode all strictly logical career considerations: I must not get […] left behind” (66).

Sticking with Conrad’s perspective, Wolfe details the two phases of testing undergone by the volunteers to qualify for one of the seven available positions as an astronaut. The first is physical examination at Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico (68-74).