When a long-term TV/Movie property master client contacted us to provide maps for the National Geographic/Warner Television series, “The Right Stuff,” we got excited. (It’s difficult to be a map geek without being a space geek, as well.)
The series was filmed in Tampa and Orlando and tells the story of the US fighter pilots who were recruited to become the first astronauts, called The Mercury 7. All episodes for Season 1 are now available on Disney+.
One of the maps needed was for an episode when Alan Shepard become the first American in space on May 5, 1961 aboard his Mercury spacecraft Freedom 7. The scene calls for a weather map that is used to track an approaching storm front that could affect Shepard’s launch window. The technology in 1961 was basically black and white radar maps, or TV weatherman who utilized stickers of the sun and rain and snow, so there was not much to go on for our research. We were asked to show the southeast coast with the distinctive Florida coastline.
We improvised to show the approaching storm front heading to Florida and low-pressure lines. This isn’t the first time we’ve been asked to make something up, so our head cartographer made his creation come to life.
Two and a half months later, Gus Grissom became the second American in space. Shepard’s capsule did not have a window, so Grissom became the first to directly view Earth from space. He marveled at the view, and the historical significance, saying, “The sight was truly breathtaking. The earth itself was very bright. The only landmark I was able to identify at the beginning was the Gulf of Mexico coastline between Apalachicola, Florida and Mobile, Alabama.”
Grissom continues, “Then after retrofire, Cape Canaveral came into view. It was quite easy to identify. The Banana and Indian Rivers were easy to distinguish, and the white beach along the coast was quite prominent.” Part of Gus’s unique training was to learn to recognize the Florida coastline and the area around Cape Canaveral, especially if he was oriented upside down. Talk about the importance of geography!