Published on May 6th, 2020 | by Tina Casey0
The Space Race, The Right Stuff, & Clean Technology
May 6th, 2020 by Tina Casey
It’s time for another edition of CleanTechnica goes to Hollywood, now that National Geographic has announced that its scripted series adaptation of the iconic Tom Wolfe tale of men in space — The Right Stuff — is set to launch on Disney+ this fall. So much to talk about! The US space program blazed the path to solar cells on Earth, and it looks like fuel cells, hydroponics, and plasma propulsion are next in line. Then there’s executive co-producer Leonardo DiCaprio, known for climate action among other things, and on top of that there’s the mystery of whatever happened to the Mercury 13. Did I miss anything?
The Right Stuff & The Climate Crisis
If you never had a chance to see the Neil Armstrong biopic First Man, go back and take a look before The Right Stuff unspools.
Looking through the lens of the climate crisis, First Man explores the fragile line that separates life from death, and The Right Stuff is about the teeth-pulling effort it takes to unite people in a common purpose to achieve a feat of history-making proportion.
Here’s what Courteney Monroe, president of the National Geographic Global Television Networks, had to say about that:
“National Geographic’s The Right Stuff’ is an aspirational story about exploration, ambition, determination and resilience and reminds us that human beings can achieve the extraordinary when united by a common purpose. This series provides a compelling behind-the-scenes look at the flawed, but heroic Mercury 7 astronauts and we are thrilled that it has found its perfect home on Disney+.”
It’s not all hearts and unicorns, though. The Right Stuff chronicles the blood and guts that went into uniting public sentiment. That includes the relentless publicity machine surrounding the effort to launch a person beyond the atmosphere as NASA went mano-a-mano with Congress in an effort to gather enough dollars together to keep everything afloat.
Whatever Happened to the Mercury 13?
Speaking of the dark underbelly, another prickly thread in the story is the rivalry between candidates for the chance to make history. Maybe rivalry is too soft a word? Go read the book if you can’t wait for the series to unspool.
Not to let the cat out of the bag, but seven men — that’s the Mercury 7 — made the cut and rocketed into space during the program’s two-year duration, from 1961 to 1963. All of them went on to fly in subsequent NASA projects, so just imagine all the rivalry going on with every mission.
As for the Mercury 13, that was a group of women who were also training in secret at the same time for the same thing. Secret, because NASA was afraid that Congress would pull the plug on funding if they ever found out.
They did find out, and the Mercury 13 lost out. The women trainees were outperforming their male counterparts in training, but they never made it into space. And why not? Hint: the total number of women in the House and Senate never got beyond 20 in the runup to the first Mercury launch and on through to 1963.
By way of comparison, the record-breaking 116th Congress of today includes 127 women.
First Came Men, Then Came Solar Panels & Fuel Cells
Check out National Geographic’s The Glass Stratosphere podcast for a closer look at the Mercury 13.
Meanwhile, NASA programs are credited with establishing the US as an early leader in the global solar industry. That fell by the wayside for a few generations but the Department of Energy is keen on grabbing the pole position again. This time around they’re banking on new perovskite solar cell technology to set the global standard.
As if that’s not enough, the Energy Department also set its sights on ensuring that every household in the US has access to affordable solar power by 2025, which could potentially make this nation the first of its size to make solar universally accessible.
NASA also focused on fuel cells for early space travel. Check this out:
“Launched in 1965, the Gemini V spacecraft was the first spacecraft to use fuel cells…Cryogenic hydrogen and oxygen tanks stored the reactants for the fuel cells. The water produced by the fuel cells was used for drinking by the astronauts.”
Interesting! Now fuel cells are all over the place. Battery EV fans can be fairly confident that hydrogen fuel cell cars are not ready for the mass market, but startups and legacy auto makers alike are gearing up to apply fuel cells to heavy duty trucks, buses, and fleet vehicles as well as watercraft, railways, and other off-road uses.
Leonardo DiCaprio Has Been Very Busy Lately
Running out of time here, so if you want to know more about DiCaprio’s environmental activities check out the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.
His executive co-producer on The Right Stuff is Jennifer Davisson, who is also President of Production in DiCaprio’s Appian Way Productions company, so let’s wrap things up with some thoughts on leadership that she voiced to Golden Globes back in 2018.
Being the loudest, most aggressive, and most negative person in the room doesn’t cut it with Davisson. She is also not a fan of the whole concept of never showing a weakness. It’s something else.
“Passion is the most important thing to lead with,” she said. “People want to follow a passion. You have to be strong in your convictions.”
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Photo: Mercury 7 flight trajectory via NASA.
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