Meet the Astronauts of 'The Right Stuff' & Go Inside the Disney+ Series

The Right Stuff Mercury 7 Astronauts Cast Episode 101
National Geographic

On the Orlando, Florida, set of The Right Stuff, it's May 1961, and NASA astronaut Alan Shepard (Jake McDorman, Limitless) is suiting up to be, he hopes, the first American in space. Watching him lock into the iconic silver gear and bubble helmet gives you chills: He doesn't know if he'll live or die, but he's grinning ear to ear with pride.

"Shepard was born to fly," says McDorman, who devoured the pilot's biography Light This Candle before shooting. "He lived for this stuff — it trickled down from the planes he'd fly to the cars he'd drive to the way he'd walk into a room. He was an all-out fighter jock and proud to be one."

Guts and glory drive all the men in this eight-part drama about the United States' first astronauts. Based on the Tom Wolfe nonfiction bestseller (which also spawned a 1983 movie), it spans 1959 to 1961 and covers the selection, training and mission of the so-called Mercury 7, the military test pilots tasked with beating the Soviet Union in the race to get a man into space. The chosen: Shepard, engineer Deke Slayton (Micah Stock, Escape at Dannemora), prankster Wally Schirra (Aaron Staton, Mad Men), veteran Gus Grissom (Michael Trotter, Underground), straitlaced man of faith John Glenn (Patrick J. Adams, Suits), haunted Gordo Cooper (Colin O'Donoghue, Once Upon a Time) and "the poet," Scott Carpenter (James Lafferty, One Tree Hill).

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See Patrick J. Adams, Colin O'Donoghue, Jake McDorman, James Lafferty, and more in character.

The seven were paraded before the press as all-American heroes with perfect families in order to build public support for the space program, but the behind-the-scenes story told here includes extramarital affairs and ongoing beefs, especially between Shepard and Glenn."You need that ego to survive, but it gets you in trouble," Adams says. "Eventually you have to put your ambition and jealousy aside to fulfill a purpose."

Scroll down for more from the cast about their characters and filming the glossy space race saga.

The Right Stuff, Premiere, Friday, Oct. 9, Disney+

The Right Stuff Mercury Seven Cast
National Geographic/Gene Page

Playing the seven, from left: Stock, McDorman, Staton, Trotter, Adams, O’Donoghue, and Lafferty.

Mercury Seven Astronauts The Right Stuff
National Geographic/Gene Page

Astronauts Shepard, Grissom, and Glenn (McDorman, Trotter, and Adams, from left) head for a water training exercise at the Starlite Motel. Production designers re-created the exterior of the storied real-life astronaut hangout at a modern Rodeway Inn. “Being where it all happened helped [me play] someone with the hopes and the fears of an entire country placed upon them,” says Trotter of location shooting on Florida’s “Space Coast” and touring Mercury launchpads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. 

Jake McDorman The Right Stuff Alan Shepard
National Geographic/Gene Page

Shepard on the launchpad. “The first time I put on the space suit was a thrill,” says McDorman of the costumes, custom-made for each actor and constructed of a silver, cotton-backed fabric instead of NASA’s original aluminum-coated nylon. “But it’s an oven in Florida humidity on a 17-hour workday. It takes four people to put on and take off. Shepard peed in his suit while sitting in the rocket right before his launch. I feel his pain. The struggle was real.”

Sacha Seberg The Right Stuff Wernher Von Braun
National Geographic/Gene Page

German-born pioneer of rocket development Wernher von Braun (Sacha Seberg, right) oversees a test launch. The aerospace engineers at mission control include brash, temperamental flight director Chris Kraft (Eric Ladin) and his calmer boss, Bob Gilruth (Patrick Fischler). “What these guys did with very little technology was remarkable,” Ladin says. “Kraft told [the astronauts], ‘We’re going to strap you on top of a nuclear missile and hope you come back safe.'”

Colin O'Donoghue Gordon Cooper Eloise Mumford Trudy Cooper The Right Stuff
National Geographic/Gene Page

Cooper, the youngest of the astronauts, argues with wife Trudy (Eloise Mumford). “It was incredibly complicated for them,” says O’Donoghue, whose favorite part of training for the role was sitting in an F-104 bomber that Cooper would have tested. “Trudy was a pilot herself, a very independent, strong woman. They were separated when he got the NASA call, but you couldn’t be accepted unless you were single or in a healthy marriage. So they lied about being together.” 

The Right Stuff Mercury Seven Training Session
National Geographic/Gene Page

Schirra, Slayton, and Carpenter (Staton, Stock, and Lafferty, from left) help Shepard practice water egress from the Mercury capsule, which would land in the ocean after flight. “The actors had to manually capsize it,” Stock says. “We rocked it back and forth and flipped it. Jake [McDorman], in full space gear, crawled out maybe a one-and a-half-foot-diameter hole onto an automatic inflatable raft and jumped into the water.  I was like, ‘This is insanity.'”