The Right Stuff

If you heard Scott Kelly talk at NI Week several years ago, you may recognize this book. I finally got around to reading it.

The Right Stuff

I recently read "The Right Stuff" by Tom Wolfe. It was quite good. I highly recommend it. It's about the start of the space program in the US. It goes through the story of the Mercury program sending the first astronauts into space.

What is the right stuff?

Tom Wolfe describe it as "what motivates a man to strap himself to a Roman Candle and launch himself off into space." - I'm paraphrasing here. I would describe it as some sort of macho bravado, or some sort of in-group/out-group separator. If you are willing and capable of taking these risks then you have "the right stuff" and if you are unwilling or unable, well then you don't have it and you aren't one of us. The more risks you take, the more of "the right stuff" you have.

In climbing/trail running

Being into rockclimbing/mountaineering and ultrarunning, the culture can be somewhat similar. Obviously I'm not comparing climbing some big mountain or running 100 miles to being an astronaut, but there is a similar dynamic. There is definitely an in-group/out-group dynamic and lots of jockeying for position.

Coping With Risk

Really I think a lot of it is just coping with risk. The book definitely hits on that in the beginning, when it talks about all the accidents. The pilots have this detached way of looking at things. Oh so and so made this mistake. He didn't have the "right stuff", but I do so I would never do that. If you look at discussion around climbing accidents you see a lot of the same thing. We kid ourselves into thinking we are somehow immune, that we would never do those "dumb" things. That's what allows us to continue doing these dangerous and risky things. We think we have enough of the "right stuff" that it can't possibly happen to us.

What does this have to do with LabVIEW?

I tried to figure out what the lesson is that I can take away from this into my LabVIEW programming. I don't really know what that is. Maybe there is some lesson about teamwork? For all the competition between the astronauts to be first, there were several times when they all pulled together and acted as a team. Maybe its something about not being cocky and overconfident. It's easy to look at bugs and say I would never write that bug, or if I did it would never get through my rigorous testing process. I guess the big difference is a software bug is usually not fatal, certainly for the author at least.

That said, there is a LabVIEW tie-in here, at least for me. I sat at NI week in 2018? and listened to Astronaut Scott Kelly talk. He had just gotten back from a year in space on the International Space Station. It was a great talk. I quite enjoyed it. A highlight of all my trips to NI Week. He mentioned that this book is what inspired him to be an astronaut. So I bought a copy. I just finally got around to reading it.

I'm not sure the book inspired me in the same way. The beginning of the book was quite graphic in describing all the risks. My first thought was "this is crazy". However by the end I was very much rooting for the astronauts and wondering what might have happened had I pursued a different career path. Would I have had "the right stuff"? Who knows?

I highly recommend reading the book. It's well-written. It's entertaining. It's got some philosophical components to it.  Also there are lot of LabVIEW programmers in the space industry, so maybe there's more of a direct tie-in there for you.