Watch 'The Real Right Stuff' launch into the virtual orchestra frontier for an epic soundtrack (exclusive)

Knowing how to work in isolation isn't just a good skill for astronauts — it's also vital to create an epic space-themed soundtrack in a pandemic.

A new video from the National Geographic Channel (opens in new tab), provided exclusively to Space.com, shows musicians virtually coming together in their bedrooms, on couches and in tiny recording studios to produce the stirring soundtrack behind the new "The Real Right Stuff" documentary, which is streaming on Disney Plus (opens in new tab). The documentary is a companion to the dramatized series "The Right Stuff," which aired its first season finale Friday (Nov. 20).dramatized

The soundtrack was composed by James Everingham and produced by Hans Zimmer and Russell Emanuel, but it is the individual musicians you get to see in the video — each focused intensely on their scoresheet, working to keep in sync even though their colleagues are far away.

Related: These astronauts read 'The Right Stuff' and flew in space

To score the soundtrack of "The Real Right Stuff," the National Geographic Channel launched into the virtual orchestra frontier. (Image credit: National Geographic Channel/Disney Plus)

"The Right Stuff" is based upon the 1979 book by Tom Wolfe (opens in new tab); older readers may also remember a 1983 movie adaptation of the book (opens in new tab). Wolfe explored NASA's early Mercury space program, when test pilots were called upon to take their derring-do into space as the United States engaged in technological competition with the Soviet Union. "The Real Right Stuff" is a companion documentary that debuted Friday to chronicle the real-life bravery, innovation and grit behind the early days of spaceflight.

No one working in space in the early 1960s could have known how poignant the theme of working in isolation could be in 2020, with billions of workers worldwide isolating partially or completely at home, often connected by little more than video conferencing tools.

The video clip shows the musicians coming together to score the launch of Alan Shepard, the first American in space. In voiceover, Wolfe (who died in 2018 at age 88) talks about his impressions of the individual mission controllers at NASA and its contractors, working to support only the second human being to fly in space after the Soviet Union's Yuri Gagarin.

Related: The Mercury 7 astronauts: NASA's first space travelers

"I sensed that in Alan Shepard's flight, that as it [launch countdown] got down close to zero, that the engineers were so worked up," Wolfe said, adding, "Each one feared that his system would be the one to cause a catastrophe."

Then the video cuts again to the musicians, each one concentrating to stay in tune so as not to derail the soundtrack. For a tense few minutes, you watch them — as you also watch archival footage of Shepard's Mercury-Redstone climbing into space on May 5, 1961, nearly 60 years ago.

At last, Shepard reaches space. He breaks from technical conversation to look at Earth, rendered in  black and white through his spacecraft periscope. "What a beautiful view," he says.

Gradually, the individual musicians finish their work and their images cut to black. The soundtrack video concludes with a single sound engineer looking at a computer screen, working with a keyboard and music levels in front of him. Another launch, and another musical piece, is complete.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace