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Written by Timothy Sexton
Spam in a can.
The name given to Project Mercury by many test pilots who saw astronauts as little more than pieces of meat to be stuffed into a rocket. In comparison to the test pilots, astronauts had essentially no control over their craft which was being manned by those on the ground back at mission control. Thus, they were simply meat; the equivalent of monkeys sent into space.
Believers in the right stuff would crash and burn.
“The right stuff” is not a term ever used by anyone but the narrator. That is part of its appeal. Those with the “right stuff” don’t need to talk about it and those without it are too ashamed. The meaning of the term is encapsulated in this quote: those with it would rather go out in a blaze of glory than never take the chance at just the glory.
Our rockets always blow up.
What becomes kind of a mantra for the first part of the book. What many born after the Mercury mission may not realize is that in comparison to the Russian rockets, in the early days of unmanned testing, American rockets often exploded on the launch pad. Another reason why the “spam in a can” line holds such meaning as meat to be experimented with.
“Four down---three to go.”
Wolfe describes how Cocoa Beach was the party place for the astronauts since wives were not allowed. The single quote which best describes the atmosphere going on there is this one not attributed to any particular young woman—and also described as perhaps merely wishful thinking—but the implication is clear. There were only seven astronauts in the Mercury program. And when a young woman who was allowed on Coach Beach said three to go, it was quite clear what she meant. The only question would be figuring out which two were really left since none of them ever got or were going to get John Glenn—the man who loved his wife more than the others loved theirs.
“Light this candle.”
Shephard became the first American astronaut, but the launch kept being delayed because, well, our rockets always blow up. Nobody involved wanted to air live to a watchful nation the spectacle of America’s first space race casualty. Finally, Shephard had had enough and told mission control light this candle. The phrase was legendary among test pilots as it was attributed to the greatest test pilot of them all—and one not even extended an invitation to turn down becoming an astronaut—Chuck Yeager.
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