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The Right Stuff: Sierra Hotel Episode Review – Historical and Personal

The lives of the original seven Mercury astronauts are explored.

Reviewed by on Oct 06, 2020
Rating: 4 Star Rating

Kidzworld saw Sierra Hotel, the first episode of The Right Stuff, an 8-part series on Disney+ that tells the story of the Mercury Seven, the first U.S. astronauts. It’s historical but also personal and real.

The first episode of “The Right Stuff” is called “Sierra Hotel” after military slang that explores whether or not a guy in the service has “the right stuff” to lead. In 1959, over 100 candidates to be America’s first astronauts were selected. Most were test pilots. They were eventually narrowed down to seven men, known as the “Mercury Seven”. These would be some of the first men into space.

“The Right Stuff” Trailer



There was huge competition among them to be first and two of the most ardent competitors were astronauts John Glenn and Alan Shepard. (Shepard was first to be shot into space but Glenn was first to orbit the earth). The 8-part series centers on Glenn, played by Patrick J. Adams, and Lieutenant Commander Shepard, played by Jake McDorman.

John Glenn (center) and other pilots at the secret briefingJohn Glenn (center) and other pilots at the secret briefingCourtesy of Disney

These men were basically agreeing to sit inside the equivalent of a sturdy tin can atop a rocket with the power of a huge bomb and be sent outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Not everyone is that brave and/or foolish. This is their story.

Launch Day

May, 1961 – A group of men wake at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Two of them get up for an early morning run. They are astronauts John Glenn and Alan Shepard. The two eat breakfast and it is clear that they are not best buddies but competitors. One of them will be the first American shot into space (Note: Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first human to orbit the Earth a month earlier launching the U.S./Soviet space race.)

John Glenn (Patrick J. Adams) takes an exam hoping to be chosenJohn Glenn takes an exam hoping to be chosenCourtesy of Disney

Two Years Before

At Edwards Air Force Base, California, two test pilots party then get ready, with hangovers, to fly test planes the next morning. Future astronaut Gordon Cooper (Colin O’Donoghue) is one of them. His buddy crashes and dies. Meanwhile, in Langley, Virginia at the new NASA offices, a list of test pilot candidates is given to officials who cross out a few names, including that of the pilot who died. We see that Marine pilot John Glenn is proud of making the cover of a magazine. A new list is made and he is on it. He badly wants to be the first man into space. He would never be forgotten.

Gordon Cooper (Colin O’Donoghue) gets invited to the briefingGordon Cooper gets invited to the briefingCourtesy of Disney

Who is Chosen?

Alan Shepard, a Navy test pilot is the best but deemed reckless. He is also married but fooling around with a girl and won’t tell her his name. He wants to fly more but is assigned a desk job. He hates it. Gordon Cooper attends the funeral of the buddy who crashed then, worried about his family, asks for a transfer from the pilot program. He knows he could crash at any time as well. But, he gets a telegram asking him to come to a secret briefing at NASA. John Glenn gets one as well. He knows it has to be the space program and is excited. Alan hears about the briefing but doesn’t get a telegram and is upset. Finally he learns that it was held up and has to rush to the meeting or be very late.

John Glenn (Patrick J. Adams) and Gordon Cooper (Colin O’Donoghue) can't wait to be in spaceJohn Glenn and Gordon Cooper can't wait to be in spaceCourtesy of Disney

The Secret Briefing

At the briefing, 108 candidates for the Mercury space program are warned about the risks. Many may die and only seven of them will be chosen to be America’s first astronauts. There won’t be time for much training or tests. We have to beat the Russians to the first flight. The space race is on and Russia might be ahead. That night at a hotel, future astronaut Scott Carpenter (James Lafferty) meets “Gordo” Cooper and Glenn and Shepard are both sure they will get in. Almost all of the 108 men are willing to take the enormous risk. Shepard is sure he will be the first man in space. Other candidates Deke Slayton (Micah Stock), Gus Grissom (Michael Trotter) and Wally Schirra (Aaron Staton) make friends.

Alan Shepard (Jake McDorman) with wife Louise learns he's made the sevenAlan Shepard with wife Louise learns he's made the sevenCourtesy of Disney

Back Home

Later the men wait for word on who was chosen. Gordon Cooper still worries about accepting and maybe leaving his kids fatherless. Glenn talks to his wife Annie (Nora Zehetner) who stutters. She assures him that, if he is picked, she is on board even though John is a little older than the other candidates. Cooper finds out that the families will also be interviewed and he is separated from his wife. She reluctantly agrees to come back because only men with stable families will be chosen.

Alan Shepard (Jake McDorman) isn't thrilled with a psychological testAlan Shepard isn't thrilled with a psychological testCourtesy of Disney

Training and the Final Seven

The last few candidates go for medical tests and some training in New Mexico. There are also psychological questions and Shepard refuses to answer. His brain is private as far as he is concerned. He’s told he’s not being honest with himself. Gordo and Glenn talk about their dreams of going into space. Glenn gets a call. He is one of the chosen seven so is Shepard. The guys won’t know which of them is going into space first until the day of the flight. The final seven introduced to the world at a press conference are Alan Shepard, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Deke Slayton, Gordon Cooper, Scott Carpenter and Wally Schirra.

The Mercury Seven astronauts are introduced to the worldThe Mercury Seven astronauts are introduced to the worldCourtesy of Disney

Wrapping Up

This TV version of “The Right Stuff” (there was a novel followed by a feature film) sets the scene for a very interesting series emphasizing the pressure put on the U.S. space program to hurry up and put a man into space especially after the Russians do it first. The young NASA program had to convince congress to give them the money to do so and there was enormous pressure on the first seven astronauts to “sell” themselves and the program to the American people. They had to be “stars”, the equivalent of today’s influencers and media celebrities and some of them and their families really weren’t that up to it. This makes for some good drama.

NASA officials discuss the list of pilotsNASA officials discuss the list of pilotsCourtesy of Disney

Actors seem to fit their parts well and future episodes will show more of the pressure on the men and their families and the competition among the seven. There is enough true history presented to educate us and plenty of drama and personal emphasis to make us care what happens to these brave but very human heroes. The show might seem a bit slow to the youngest viewers but teens can get into it. For the historical yet human value we can award four stars.

“The Right Stuff” Episode 101 Rating: 4

The Right Stuff Disney  Series PosterCourtesy of Disney

See Episode One of “The Right Stuff” on Disney+ National Geographic section starting Friday, October 9th.

Could You Be an Early Astronaut?

Unlike the space shuttle astronauts, the first seven faced much more danger. Could you? Do you hope Mankind gets to Mars and beyond some day? Talk up all things “spacey” with a comment or discussion on your Kidzworld profile page.