"The Right Stuff," journalist Tom Wolfe's venerable tale of real-life test pilots and early astronauts, is being developed as a new dramatic series for television by Leonardo DiCaprio for National Geographic.
Under the terms of the deal, announced Tuesday (July 25), DiCaprio and Jennifer Davisson of Los Angeles-based Appian Way Productions will executive produce the series, which will adapt Wolfe's 1979 book about NASA's Mercury astronauts as a starting point. "The Right Stuff" series will be produced in association with Warner Horizon Scripted Television.
"The heroism of these astronauts was rivaled only by the country's fascination with their story," Davisson, president of production for Appian Way, said in a statement released by National Geographic on Tuesday. "This series uncovers both the adventure of space exploration and the adventure of being unwittingly thrust into the public eye." [Best Spaceflight and Space History Books]
"We're looking at moment in time where the everyday life, the trials and tribulations, of these men was scrutinized in the public," said Courteney Monroe, National Geographic Global Networks' chief executive officer. "The story gives a peek into the minds and goals of these astronauts seeking exploration and adventure during the space race ... making it the perfect story for National Geographic to tell."
Wolfe's book, which was adapted for the 1983 feature film "The Right Stuff" by director Philip Kaufman, starring Sam Shepard, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid and Barbara Hershey, chronicled the lives and missions of test pilots like Chuck Yeager and Slick Goodlin, who pushed past the speed of sound, and those who went on to become the first NASA astronauts, including Alan Shepard and John Glenn.
The National Geographic series will expand upon the 436-page book and 193-minute movie, featuring a mission for each season, with the first season beginning in the Mojave desert at the height of the Cold War and start of the Space Race between the Soviet Union and United States in 1958. Picking up after the launch of the first man-made satellite, Sputnik, 60 years ago this October, the series' first season will follow as the U.S. attempts to surpass the Soviets by aiming to put the first man in space.
The series' planned hour-long episodes will trace the test pilots' journeys from the edge of space to Earth orbit, with future seasons planned to carry through to pinnacle of the space race, the Apollo moon landings.
"The Right Stuff" is National Geographic and Appian Way's second collaboration following the 2016 documentary film "Before the Flood." That project included DiCaprio talking about climate change with the late astronaut Piers Sellers, then acting director for earth sciences at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.
"I'm excited to work with them in a scripted capacity," said Monroe, noting the "rich relationship" between Appian Way and National Geographic on "Before the Flood."
"We couldn't think of a better partner to bring 'The Right Stuff' to the world," said Davisson.
Writer Will Staples, who recently developed "Animals" with Appian Way as a thriller set in Africa for Ben Affleck, will serve as a writer and executive producer on the series. In 2015, Staples completed additional production work on the recent "Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation."
In separate but similar news, Fox 21 Television Studios on Tuesday (July 25) announced it has acquired the rights to Time magazine editor Jeffrey Kluger's recent book "Apollo 8," to be developed as a new a series by Michael Bostick, who produced the 1998 HBO miniseries "From The Earth To The Moon" and David Friendly ("Queen Of The South"). Fox 21 is a division of 20th Century Fox Television, which owns a majority in the National Geographic Channels.
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Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.