A 3-hour, 13-minute film stars Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, Fred Ward, Barbara Hershey, Kim Stanley, Levon Helm, Veronica Cartwright, Pamela Reed, Lance Henriksen, and the real Chuck Yeager in a cameo appearance. NFL Hall of Famer Anthony Muñoz also has a small role, playing "Gonzalez". It features a score by composer Bill Conti.
The screenplay was adapted by Philip Kaufman from the book, with some contributions from screenwriter William Goldman (Goldman dissociated himself with the film after quarrelling with Kaufman about the story). The film was also directed by Kaufman.
While the movie took liberties with certain historical facts as part of "dramatic license", criticism focused on one: the portrayal of Gus Grissom panicking when his Liberty Bell 7 spacecraft sank following splashdown. Most historians, as well as engineers working for or with NASA and many of the related contractor agencies within the aerospace industry, are now convinced that the premature detonation of the spacecraft hatch's explosive bolts was caused by failure not associated with direct human error or deliberate detonation at the hands of Grissom.
This determination had, in fact, been made long before the movie was filmed, and even Tom Wolfe's book only states that this possibility was considered, not that it was actually judged as being the cause of the accident. In fact, Grissom was assigned to command the first flights of both Gemini and Apollo. Ironically, Grissom died in the Apollo 1 fire because there was no quick-opening hatch on the Block 1 Apollo Command Module - a design choice made because NASA had determined that the explosion in the hatch on Grissom's Liberty Bell 7 had been most likely self-initiated.
Another fact that had been altered in the film was the statement by Trudy Cooper, who commented that she "wondered how they would've felt if every time their husband went in to make a deal, there was a one-in-four chance he wouldn't come out of that meeting." According to the book, this actually reflected the 23% chance of dying during a 20-year career as a normal pilot. For a test pilot, these odds were higher, at 53%, but were still considerably less than the movie implied. In addition, the movie merely used the fictional Mrs. Cooper as a vehicle for the statement; the real Mrs. Cooper is not known to have said this.
Wolfe made no secret that he disliked the film, especially because of changes from his original book. William Goldman, involved in early drafts of the script, also disliked the choices made by Kaufman, saying in his book Adventures in the Screen Trade that "Phil [Kaufman]'s heart was with Yeager. And not only that, he felt the astronauts, rather than being heroic, were really minor leaguers, mechanical men of no particular quality, not great pilots at all, simply the product of hype.” Critics, however, generally were favorable toward the film.