the right stuff

is an excellent book by Tom Wolfe (isbn 978-0-099-47937-6). A marvelous tale of courage. As usual I'm going to quote from a few pages:
In the military they always said "flight test" and not "test flying".
Once the theorem and the corollary was understood, the Navy's statistics about one in every four Navy aviators dying meant nothing. The figures were averages, and averages applied to those with the average stuff.
What people were seeing on television were, in fact, ordinary test events. Blown engines were par for the course in testing aircraft prototypes and were inevitable in testing an entirely new propulsion system, such as jet or rocket engines.
Conrad stares at the piece of [blank] paper and then looks up at the man and says in a wary tone, as if he fears a trick: "But it's upside down."
This obsession with active control, it was argued, would only tend to cause problems on Mercury flights. What was required was a man whose main talent was for doing nothing under stress.
The boys' response, however, had not been resignation or anything close to it. No, the engineers now looked on, eyebrows arched, as the guinea pigs set about altering the experiment.
The esprit throughout NASA was tremendous... Bureaucratic lines no longer meant anything. Anyone in Project Mercury could immediately get to see anybody else about any problem that came up.
They had barely moved the first stick of furniture in when the tour buses started arriving, plus the freelance tourists in cars. ... Sometimes people would get out and grab a handful of grass from your lawn. They'd get back on the bus with their miserable little green sprouts sticking out of their fingers. They believed in magic.
Herein the world was divided into those who had it and those who did not.

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