Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff” documents the great schism played out in the 50s and 60s between the air force and navy airmen from the military and the space scientists and bureaucrats who were the forerunners of NASA in the space race and what we now know as the space programme.
The essential clash was between the airman who “flew”, the intrepid aviator culture, the dare devil courageous pilots – and the technocrats and physics driven guru engineers of the more modern age in which computers “flew” aircraft and the intrepid were passengers.
The ultimate intrepid aviator was the “test pilot” amongst whom Chuck Yeagar is the acknowledged all time hero. Test pilots indeed had the “right stuff” in every dimension.
There were numerous scraps over how much control (if any at all) the astronaut (a term not taken up with gusto by test pilots) should have over the Mercury capsule and later the Gemini etc.
For all practical purposes the ultimate result was some mix of man and machine but with a heavy weighting to machine – astronauts could not be described and have not for the last 30 or more years as “pilots” in any sense implied in the earlier era.
The landing of the Curiosity surely underlines the argument.
Culture however is enduring – in life and in business.
The test pilot culture, the culture of “the right stuff” was so far reaching and enduring that today, in August 2012, with the passing of 82 year old Neil Armstrong – the first man to walk on the moon and surely the most famous astronaut of all time – I heard his fellow crewman of the Apollo moon missions Buzz Aldrin describe him as “the greatest test pilot I ever knew.”
Those seeking to change “culture” might reflect on this…